You may expect to feel sad and upset when someone you care about dies, but there are many other feelings that can also come out of the blue. Feeling guilty is one of these, and it is normal to feel guilt when someone has died.
People can feel guilty because they feel that they could have done something differently to prevent the person from dying. You may wish that you had said or done something whilst they were still alive or feel guilty that you didn’t do something. Some young people may also feel guilty about still being alive when that person is not. These feelings of guilt and regret may be particularly strong if you had a difficult relationship with the person before they died.
Guilt is a powerful emotion and can feel very heavy and hard to handle. Holding on to these kind of emotions can be exhausting and create lots of problems, now and in the future. It can be helpful to find a way to let out some of these feelings – although they might not disappear straight away, the intensity of the feelings can begin to ease.
Ways to let out your feelings of guilt
1. Talk to friends and family
Can you find a trusted person to talk to? Someone that know the person who died – a family member or a good friend – can be helpful. Try to be honest with them about what you are feeling. You might find that they are also experiencing many new and confusing feelings too. Sometimes talking out loud about worries and regrets can make you feel you are not alone with these feelings.
Family and friends can be a big help. They will be grieving too and some people find that sharing feelings and memories is a good way to help each other. Sometimes, young people hesitate to bring up a death or mention the special person’s name as they worry this might upset themselves and others – and then also feel guilty about this.
However, in our experience, it’s better to be open and honest about what you are feeling. People do find it helpful to talk about loss and you will all be coping with the death of your special person.
2. Talk to someone outside your family
Some young people tell us that they want to talk to someone outside of their family and friends and that’s ok too. At Winston’s Wish, we provide confidential support to young people who are bereaved and can give you space to talk things through.
You can contact us any time via email or use our online chat which is available Wednesday and Fridays, 12-4pm – just click on the ‘ASK US’ image on the right or on this page.
3. Activity to let go of feelings of guilt
You could try and write down some of your regrets and things you feel guilty about. Maybe finish these sentences:
- “I should have…”
- “I could have…”
- “I would have…”
- “I wish I…”
You could talk these thoughts and feelings through with someone you trust. You could also decide to carry these feelings around for a while, with in your pockets or a bag. After a while, you can decide to get rid of these feelings by ripping up or destroying the paper. Try to imagine how different it feels not to be carrying these feelings around with you.
Although guilt is a common feeling for young people who are grieving, there is no right or wrong way to feel and no rules about how to grieve. Give yourself time to feel whatever you are feeling. Sometimes, people describe grief as a rollercoaster and it is really normal to have up and down days. As time passes you may still experience feelings to do with grief, but the intense feelings of pain and guilt usually lessen. You will know you are feeling better when there are more good days than bad, but on those bad days it’s ok to reach out for support.