Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Friend Grief - Guilt vs. Regret

Guilt: responsibility for a crime or for doing something bad or wrong; a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong.

Regret: to mourn the loss or death of; to miss very much; to be very sorry for.

(Definitions courtesy of Merriam-Webster Dictionary)


Often when a friend dies, we feel overwhelmed by what might have been. There are good memories to comfort us, stories we can share with other friends. But often – too often – the negative feelings overshadow everything else. And we feel guilty.

Or do we?

There are certainly times when guilt is an accurate response to the news that a friend has died. If you promised to call/visit, and then blew them off because you were tired or got a better offer, than yes, guilt is appropriate. If you consciously avoided them because you “couldn’t handle” seeing them “like that”, then yes, you should feel guilty. If you spent time with them, but refused to let them confide their hopes and fears about dying, demanding that the conversation stay upbeat, then yes, I hope you do feel guilty.

But what most of us feel is not guilt. While the first definition of guilt is related to committing a crime, isn’t it interesting that the first definition of regret is about mourning?

There have been times when I couldn’t visit someone who was sick because I had a cold, and I knew their compromised immune system might not be able to fight it off.

There have been times when family obligations or my own health took precedence over spending time with a sick friend.

There have been times when I realized too late that I never told them I loved them, even though they’d probably protest that they already knew.

There have been times when I just thought we’d have more time. It wasn’t denial. I just expected they’d live long enough to finish a project we were both working on, one I’ll have to finish on my own.

I guess I’m saying that since we’re all imperfect, we will always have regrets. We will be sad when a friend dies and feel that loss very deeply. We’ll do things and go places, and wish they were there with us. That’s regret, and it’s unavoidable.

Guilt, however, is avoidable. Yes, it’s hard to visit a friend who’s dying, hard to see the physical change in them. So what? You can’t handle feeling uncomfortable, even if your presence brings comfort to your friend? Then you’re not much of a friend.

So, your assignment for today is to make a promise to yourself to avoid guilt when it comes to your friends. Don’t make excuses. Don’t wimp out. Be present. Be supportive. Be a good friend.
You’ll still mourn their loss. You’ll still have regrets. But you'll sleep better not feeling guilty.

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