Letting Go of Guilt
April 2, 2015
Guilt is a common and normal response for many grieving children and teens. Children may believe that something they did, said or thought caused the death. Acknowledging these feelings is important. It is equally important to reassure children that they are not responsible for a death. If this is not addressed, it’s possible that a child could carry these feelings for a very long time, just like Fernside volunteer Marcy Gruen. She writes about her experience with grief and regret below:
“My sister died when I was 9. She was two years younger than me. Now 34 years later, I’m a group facilitator at Fernside because I want to help other children deal with their grief. Even though our focus during group is on the kids and adults we’re working with, a lot of us who are drawn to Fernside have our own experience with loss. And sometimes during the process of supporting others, we discover what we haven’t addressed ourselves.
Recently, our group was discussing what we would say to the person who died if we had the chance. I started to consider the question myself. I would say I was sorry to my sister; which made me realize that I have been carrying guilt with me for all of these years. I’d always felt that if I had done something differently that last day, my sister would still be with us. But she wouldn’t. I’ve known for a long time what caused her death, but it wasn’t until this day at Fernside that the truth dawned on me. There’s nothing I could have done. There’s nothing anyone could have done.
For 34 years I’ve felt guilty. For 34 years I thought my sister’s death was something I could have prevented. But that’s gone now. That weight, that burden, has been lifted from me. It’s very freeing. Those feelings of guilt and regret have been replaced with peace and calm. I know it’s cliché to say, but I feel like a new person.
It’s crazy how one question can change everything, but it did and I’m grateful that I was at Fernside that night and had the opportunity, along with the kids, to explore what I’d been holding onto.”
Feelings of guilt and regret can be powerful and hold a child back from moving forward. Make sure they know the death was not their fault. Nothing they did or said caused it. If you are an adult and find yourself struggling with guilt or regret, recognize and validate your feelings, don’t blame yourself, remind yourself you are not responsible and surround yourself with supportive people.
Marcy Gruen is a facilitator on our Tuesday Blue Ash night. When she decided to volunteer at Fernside she told us, “I know that listening is more important than talking. And I know a bit about what these kids go through”. Marcy attended Fernside as a teenager, several years after the death of her sister. She remembers that, “I didn’t want to talk and open up, but from the beginning I realized that I really wasn’t alone. I will never forget the effect Fernside had on me and the way it helped”.