When you’re learning how to deal with guilt after your mom dies, remember that she couldn’t love you any more than she did when she died. You weren’t a perfect daughter, she wasn’t a perfect mother, and you didn’t have a perfect mother-daughter relationship. But you had each other…and that has to be good enough.
Dealing with guilty feelings after your mother’s death is a normal part of the grieving process. “Sometimes the hardest part of grief is guilt,” writes Margaret Brownley in Grieving God’s Way: The Path to Lasting Hope and Healing. “We obsess over what we did or didn’t do, the missed opportunities to say ‘I love you,’ and the times we lashed out in anger and impatience.”
Learning how to deal with guilt after your mom dies is a process that takes time. Remember that you’re also grieving a huge loss in your life – your mom knew and loved you like nobody else on earth ever could. This makes your guilt worse because you know you can never repay your mother for the love, kindness, care and support she gave you. Your mom took care of you when you were a tiny, helpless baby and loved you as you grew up.
Mothers (and fathers!) make sacrifice after sacrifice for their children; feeling guilty after a parent dies is part of grieving their death. No matter where you were or how your mother died, feeling guilty is natural because of how much you loved each other. But, getting stuck in guilt and shame is not natural or healthy.
3 Ways to Deal With Guilt After Your Mom Dies
I don’t know why you’re struggling with guilt or how your mom died, but I remember feeling constantly guilty and ashamed after my grandmother died. She was like a mom to me; she died alone in her apartment 20 years ago. Now, I no longer feel guilty or ashamed when I remember certain conversations and experiences — but it took a long time to heal.
You, too, will heal from the guilt you feel over your mom’s death. You can work through your guilty feelings, grieve how you wish things could have been, and grow healthier and stronger. And if you follow Jesus Christ, you’ll find forgiveness and healing than you could ever imagine.
1. Understand why people feel guilty
“Guilt complicates and prolongs the grieving process by preventing the emotional and spiritual growth necessary for recovery,” writes Brownley in Grieving God’s Way. “Self-condemnation and regret can all too often lead to depression or even thoughts of self-harm.”
You feel guilty because your conscience is telling you that you could or should have been more loving, kind and supportive of your mom. Guilt comes from the good part of you, the part that knows you violated your own standards. You disappointed yourself. Maybe you even disappointed your mother. I know I disappointed my grandma, even though she died without ever telling me that I hurt her.
When you accept that your guilty feelings arise from a place of goodness within you, your ability to heal grows. You aren’t a bad person. You may have made a bad choice or poor decision, but you were acting out of your thoughts and feelings. You did or said something to your mom because of what you knew and believed at the time. Accepting yourself — that you did the best you could — will help you heal the guilt when your mom dies.
2. Face the specific reason you feel guilty about your mom
Maybe you wish you’d been more forgiving, gentle or kind. That’s what I wished after I lost my grandma. Maybe you could’ve been more understanding and patient, kinder or more generous with your life. Maybe you wish you had another chance to say “I love you” to your mom before her death. Maybe you weren’t there when your mother died, and you regret not seeing her at the end.
Even if your mom was difficult (or one of the most controlling parents in the world!), you may regret how you responded to her. One of the most important ways to heal guilt when your mom dies is to be honest. What actions or thoughts are underlying your guilty feelings? What do you wish you would have done differently before your mom died? If you have no answers, read How to Stop Feeling Guilty for No Reason.
3. Write about your mom’s death and your guilty feelings
Writing can help you stop obsessing, ruminating, and reciting the same guilty feelings over and over. Writing everything down – with a pen and paper, no matter how difficult or painful it feels – is a healthy way to face and work through feelings of guilt. Your mom’s death may be the most painful experience of your life; writing can help you process your feelings and express your thoughts.
Write it down. Go somewhere private, schedule 15 or 30 minutes, and put everything else aside. Just write honestly. What did you say or do to your mom? Why do you feel so guilty? What do you already know about how to deal with guilty feelings after your mom dies? Be honest; write the whole story. Tell your mom that you’re sorry. Allow feelings of anger, shame, embarrassment, confusion or regret to flow through you onto the paper.
Talk to your mom. Write your mother a letter that tells her how much you miss her and how bad you feel about what did or didn’t happen. Tell your mom how guilty you feel and how much you miss her now that she’s gone. Believe that she hears you. Your mom is reading every word over your shoulder. She loves you more than ever before, and she forgives you.
Help grieving your mother’s death
In It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand, therapist Megan Devine offers a profound approach to grieving.
In this book, Megan shares what it was like to witness the accidental drowning of her beloved husband. She doesn’t talk specifically about healing guilt when your mom dies, but she offers deep insight about the unspoken truths of loss, love, and healing.
Through stories, research, life tips, and creative and mindfulness-based practices, Megan offers a unique guide through the grieving process. Whether it’s our moms, grandmothers or partners…we all have to grieve the loss of someone we love. This book offers hope, help and healing.
Margaret Brownley’s Grieving God’s Way: The Path to Lasting Hope and Healing offers insight into healing our grieving body, soul, heart, and spirit. Infused with scriptures and inspirational haiku by Diantha Ain, this book will help you grieve your mom’s death with God’s perspective. Grieving God’s way requires us to trust that He will lead us through the darkness, heal our pain, take away our weariness, and fill our hearts with hope, peace, and new purpose. Learning how to grieve with hope and faith will help you deal with and heal the guilt you feel.
Read through the comments below – you may find it helpful to learn how others deal with guilty feelings. Feel free to share thoughts and stories about how your mom died, why you feel so guilty, and what you wish was different.
I’m sorry you lost your mom.