Dealing with Grief: Releasing Regrets After a Loss

| By Casa de la Luz
How big is that bag of burdens you carry with you?  You know, the list of things you wish you had…or hadn’t said, the one with the list of things you were going to do…but never did, or perhaps the last good-bye or I love you that never got said.
For some of us that bag is pretty darn heavy—so heavy it’s hard to move sometimes.  And  the best thing about the bag of burdens you carry is that if you ever start feeling good, laughing or enjoying yourself, it’s there reminding you of everything you didn’t do. And if you start to forget the details, all you have to do is get it out and look at what’s in there over and over and over to remind yourself of all the things you could have, should have, and would have done if you were a better, more loving person.  And even worse, did you ever feel guilty but couldn’t remember why?  That’s when the bag really comes in handy.
Guilt is what I call a “heavy” emotion.  It wears us down. It’s hard to carry.  It keeps us from moving forward in our lives because it holds us to the past.  Its close cousin is anger, another “heavy” emotion.  Guilt is anger—anger directed at ourselves.  In my experience, guilt and regret can cause us to become “stuck,” and prevent us from finding meaning and joy following a loss, such as the death of a loved one.
Joy is a “light” emotion.  It lifts us up, inspires us, and makes life worth living again.  The more we experience joy and peace, the more light we have in our lives.  
Did you know that the more compassionate we are, the less we are able to forgive ourselves?  We somehow hold ourselves to a different, higher standard of perfection in our relationships, perhaps an unrealistic expectation.
The truth is that we are all imperfect beings and healthy relationships are balanced with an abundance of love and forgiveness. When a loved one dies we tend to forget their imperfections and magnify our own, often causing ourselves undeserved pain and suffering, both complicating and prolonging our grief experience.
So, how do you release your regrets? How do you let go of the “if onlys” in your head?
The following three steps can assist you in dealing with your grief and be a step toward a more joyful life experience, one you know your deceased loved one would wish for you.
1. Grant yourself permission for self forgiveness, acknowledging your membership in a mostly well intentioned, though flawed, human race.  
2. Express your regrets in a way most comfortable for you:
a.       Write a letter to your loved one who died.
b.      Document your feelings in a journal.
c.       Talk to your deceased loved one at the graveside or gaze at a picture, expressing your feelings.
d.      Work with a counselor or therapist 
3. Write the following affirmations nine times twice daily, morning and night for 30 days. This process communicates your intent for self-forgiveness to your deepest self.
“I forgive myself for everything, real or imagined.”
            “I forgive myself completely.”
Most importantly, nurture yourself with kindness and experience light and joy in your life.
Self-forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself and others.  As others experience your light they find a path to their own.
For information about grief support groups in Tucson, contact Casa de la Luz Hospice at 520-544-9890. Casa de la Luz Hospice’s support groups are free and open to the public.

By Bonnie Knobloch, RN, M.Ed

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