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          Forgiving Yourself after the Loss of a Loved One

          May 30, 2003

          If you are suffering from feelings of guilt after the loss of a loved one, even though the death was not your fault, Dr. Phil has advice on how to forgive yourself so that you can move on.

          • Know that it isn’t uncommon to play the “What if?” game: “What if I could have stopped it?” “What if I had only known the accident would happen?” “What if I could trade places and it could have been me who died?” etc.
          • You may also find yourself feeling guilty if you catch yourself smiling, having a good time or simply enjoying life after your loss.
          • Although there is no set timetable for grieving, if a substantial period of time has passed and you are still not allowing yourself to move on past the grieving process, allowing yourself to be crippled with guilt for something that was not your fault, ask yourself why.
          • Understand that in any situation, even one like this, people don’t engage in a behavior that they don’t get a payoff for. Is the fact that you can’t move forward a payoff in itself? If you feel the only connection that you have with the deceased is your grieving, could that be a payoff? Is the guilt a payoff? Are you punishing yourself because you feel you deserve to be punished for being a bad mother/sibling/friend/spouse because you let your loved one die?
          • If you won’t move on past the grieving process because the grief is your current connection to the deceased, ask yourself how terrible it is that your precious loved one is being remembered as a legacy of pain that you choose to carry around. You’re focusing on the moment he/she died instead of on the moments he/she lived and the joy that he/she brought to your life. Isn’t that a terrible burden to place on your loved one?
          • If you want to forgive yourself, understand that guilt is all about intention. Is there a bone in your body that wished or intended for something bad to happen to your loved one? If not, why are you feeling guilty?
          • There comes a time when you have to say, ‘Enough is enough. If I give up the pain, I’m not going to lose him/her.’ How long you grieve or how deeply you hurt does not reflect how much you loved. The fact that it’s been two, five or 10 years and you are allowing yourself to live life doesn’t mean that you love him/her any less. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten your loved one.
          • When you are ready to let go of your guilt and grief, it may help to speak out loud to your loved one, expressing your continued love for him/her while affirming your decision to let go of the grieving process: “I love you, but I have to let you go. I will love you until the day I die, but I’m going to let you go.”
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