Feeling Guilty

Reverend Phil Roland, group facilitator, writer and grief specialist shares his personal story about grief and guilt. He explains how we need to own our grief and our guilt in order to soothe our inner anger.

by Phil Roland

Twenty-six years ago, my son Larry’s little cat, Mittens, died.

There were no trumpets, no fanfares, no memorials. She just naturally curled up fittingly among autumn’s fallen leaves under a tree in our yard and died. As I picked up the little lifeless body and carried it out into the field behind our house, I felt an awesome surge of sadness.

Maybe my sadness was for my grieving 12-year-old son walking beside me. Maybe my sadness and the lump in my throat were for the lost life of that small cat, hardly two years old. Or, maybe, my sadness was because I had been the stern father who wouldn’t allow the small creature into my home, even though my son had begged me to allow it to be taken indoors and out of the harsh elements.

I have felt that grief and guilt more than once in my lifetime. James Russell Lowell said it eloquently:

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are, “It might have been.”

When it comes to grief, sorrow, broken heartedness and loss, our initial problem is guilt. Loss of anything we love introverts us instantly into the abyss of grief and guilt. This anger directed in at ourselves is one of the initial reactions to loss that can bog us down in the normal process of grief.

For me, this cycle of rage sparked by my “instant replay” over my loss is the most difficult to overcome, because of my own angry heart. Guilt-related anger is sticky and hard to release. This is especially true when I am convinced that my inner anger (guilt) is justified: “Maybe there is something I could have done or should have done.”

Here are some things you can do to soothe your own inner anger:

Own it
Admit to yourself, a close friend, or God that you are angry with yourself and having difficulty release it. Say to yourself, “I’m just angry and I don’t have to stay angry. Anger is just another feeling. It comes and it will pass.”

Acknowledge it

Confess…say out loud that you are unable to deal with your guilt by yourself. “I feel overwhelmed by these guilty feelings. I’m really furious with myself.”

Embrace it
Embrace your humanity. Guilt in your grief is an honest part of your humanity. Allow yourself to be human. Find a therapist, rabbi, priest, minister, or trustworthy friend to vent these feelings. Identifying and talking about emotions aids the release of emotions.

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