Why Grieving People Feel Guilty
Survivor’s guilt is a term that’s used in traumatic situations. It describes the feelings of guilt felt by someone who survives a situation when others did not. Often it refers to a situation such as a car accident or suicide. The surviving individual struggles with feelings of guilt, either as to why they survived instead of their loved one, or why couldn’t they save them. Recently however, I was introduced to an expanded meaning of this term. Maryanne Pope, in her blogpost “Grief & Money” describes how some people struggle with the insurance money they may have received following the loss of their loved one, and feel like perhaps they didn’t deserve it.
She describes how some people view the money as ‘blood money’, and feel the need, sometimes even subconsciously, to give it away, as fast as possible.
Her descriptions reminded me of some of the emotions I struggled with after my husband passed away. My situation was the opposite, however. We did not receive any insurance pay out, and money was tight. Instead, I felt guilty for everything we did have. How could I, the struggling widow, afford these ‘luxuries’? Often they were gifts from others, or financial gifts with
the command to not spend it on groceries, but to buy something for myself, or the kids, that we wouldn’t otherwise buy. I always spent wisely, and often ignored the provided instructions, and used it on groceries anyway. And yet I felt guilty for every financial gift that put us above poverty level. I didn’t want to remain at poverty level, and was very thankful and grateful for every financial contribution friends or family made, but struggled with the feelings of guilt I was left with.
I think there is far more ‘survivor guilt’ that grieving individuals experience than is ever formally acknowledged. How many of us have felt guilty the first time we laughed or enjoyed ourselves after our loved one has passed away? We are grieving, how can we laugh? It feels like a betrayal of our loved one that we feel happiness during a time of sadness. I can remember watching a sitcom called “Go On’. The lead character’s wife had passed away, and he attends a support group. The show was a comedy, and portrayed many of the emotions and events grieving individuals experience, but with a touch of humor. It was incredibly therapeutic to watch, to be validated in what I was experiencing. Yet there was always the underlying guilt of enjoying myself when I should be grieving.
Guilt comes in many forms, and for many reasons following a death of a loved one. Our society does not like to acknowledge even the depth of sadness that accompanies grief, let alone the other emotions that can be associated with it. If you have feelings of guilt, I encourage you to understand them and deal with them. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help, whether it be in the form of grief counseling, or financial assistance.
These feelings of guilt are real, and are a real part of the grief journey.
Take Time – Acknowledge Your Loss – Grieve Together