The Guilt of Relief

guilt of reliefWhen speaking with a person who has recently lost a loved one to a long illness, I often hear them say “I’m just relieved that she’s gone.”

And this statement is almost certainly followed with something like: “It’s just that she was suffering for such a long time. I love my mom, but for those last few years she wasn’t herself. She had no quality of life and I know she would not have wanted to live that way.…”

The fact is that relief is a complicated emotion when coupled with grieving.

Even people who have the ability to express relief out loud can’t do so without explaining how they could feel “relieved” that someone they love has died.

Watching someone we love get diagnosed with a disease, suffer with its symptoms and ultimately die is one of the most traumatic things we can experience.

As we watch a loved one lose every fundamental ability during an especially long illness, we may find ourselves wishing it would end.

And why is this “guilt of relief” such a strange concept? When we struggled at other points in our lives, didn’t we find we could freely express that we wanted the struggle to be over? Wasn’t voicing our relief almost always acceptable?

Understanding the Guilt of Relief

Finding relief on the other side of loss is nothing to feel guilty about, and certainly not something that should require an explanation.

Yet the guilt this conflict leaves is something few people find they are able to shake.

While so few parts of the grieving process could ever be considered simple, in this case a subtle shift in perspective could be what makes the difference.

When speaking to someone who reluctantly admits feeling this “guilt of relief” following the loss of a loved one, I offer one simple idea:

“You are not relieved that your loved one has died. You are relieved that a time in your life marked by stress, uncertainty and suffering is now over.”

Give it a try. See if this change in perspective can make a difference. Don’t make this process any harder than it has to be and let yourself off the hook when you can. You have been through one of the most difficult and challenging experiences a person can endure. If you are able to feel even a small sense of relief, it is not something to hide, but to embrace.

And remember that you aren’t alone in your grief, or in experiencing your guilt of relief. Our forums offer you a place to see and share stories of grieving with people who have gone through losses of their own.

There’s even a section called Life After Caregiving. If you feel like you can’t say the things you feel out loud, start there. Share your experience with those who have been where you’ve been.

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