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Life after Death

Malkie Schulman

Moving beyond the passing of a loved one is always difficult, but grief can be compounded when the survivor is tormented by guilt. What’s at the root of this emotion and how does one work through it

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Though it’s been over 30 years, Lisa’s voice still cracks with emotion when she shares her story. Shortly after she married, her parents made aliyah. “My father begged me and my husband to move toIsrael at least for the first few years of our marriage. I wanted to,” she relates, “but my husband had been accepted to medical school and he wanted to get started already.”

Two years later, Lisa’s father was diagnosed with a rare aggressive cancer.

“I visited many times that year but in my last conversation with him — and this is engraved in my mind forever — he said to me, ‘Don’t you wish now that you moved here?’ Well,” Lisa shares, “I don’t blame myself for not moving toIsrael. I knew my husband’s wishes superseded my dad’s, but I still feel torn apart because instead of just saying ‘Yes, Daddy, I love you so much and wish I’d spent these last few years with you,’ I started defending my position, explaining why I had to do what I did. I’ve been replaying that scene for the last 30 years, each time wishing I had spoken differently.”

When an individual passes away, grief is the normal reaction. But almost as common — though not nearly as well acknowledged — is a sense of guilt.

“Guilt is one of the most powerful negative reactions to the loss of a loved one, equaled only by anger as a common grief experience,” according to Carol Staudacher, grief consultant lecturer and author of Beyond Grief: A Guide for Recovering from the Death of a Loved One (New Harbinger Publications).

“After someone close dies, people may blame themselves for things they did or didn’t do that they feel contributed to the death of their loved one,” Ms. Staudacher continues. “Regardless of how or why our loved one died, we sift through the evidence of past behavior, giving ourselves reasons to be miserable. We become tormented by our own perceived failures, omissions, insults, poor judgment, or unwise choices.”


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