We grieve according to the kind of relationship we had with the deceased, how open we were, the ideas we have of mortality, the inner strengths or weaknesses we have, or the kind of emotional support we get from those around us.
It isn’t necessarily true that the happier we were with the beloved person, the better relationship we had, the more we hurt after their death. If anything, the opposite is probably truer. Sorrow is painful enough; sorrow plus anger and regret (guilt) is worse. Anger, experts say, is always present after bereavement, but may be directed at diverse sources such as – at God, at medical personnel, at the deceased for dying, at someone seen as causing the death or turned inward on the self and manifested as depression or physical illness. In bereavement, anger must be expressed for grieving to finish normally.
In the case where blame can rightly be placed (drunken driver, murderer) anger is quite justifiable- feelings of revenge are common and normal in these cases. Survivors should be allowed to talk out their anger, and perhaps beat on something inanimate. Listeners should acknowledge and validate these feeling – eventually, forgiveness can occur. Suppression of anger can result in a later impulsive act.
Anger at a dead person for dying triggers guilt. We are not supposed to feel angry toward a dead person. We are not supposed to feel anger at God either. When we are relieved somehow at the death of someone infirmed, or one who caused us misery, we again feel guilt. After all, we are not supposed to feel relief at someone’s death, we think. Yet, we do, and the more alive we are, the more we have normal feelings, and the more we need reassurance that these feelings are okay.
Conscience is built into us from an early age, and a law-abiding society couldn’t exist without it. In mourning conscience becomes magnified and is strongly felt as guilt. But we are certainly harder on ourselves than we need or ought to be. Most of the things we find to blame ourselves for should not have blame attached at all. It takes two to make or break a relationship- the whole responsibility didn’t rest on the survivor, yet we grieve as if it did.
When the relationship we had was less than ideal in our eyes, when we could not or did not express loving thoughts, when we rightly or wrongly see ourselves as somehow responsible for the death, we have all kinds of regrets and guilt later.
When someone is actually held responsible for the death of a loved one there is no point in saying “it’s done-forget it.” That person has bereaved him or herself, and may forever bear the guilt. We can only listen, and not rush in to console, but instead, validate the person and his feelings, encouraging him to pour out his anguish.
If a survivor idealizes the person, it probably indicates a feeling of guilt. If someone says “he was so good, such a perfect husband”, she probably means “l was such a bad wife”. Conversely, when the survivor ceases to idealize, can talk about the person as if he had human failings, guilt is going or is done.« Back to Articles