The grieving process hurts worse when you regret things you said or did while your loved one was alive, doesn’t it? You have no way to apologize or make amends. And you can’t change how you acted in the past. These ideas for dealing with regret after someone you love dies are inspired by a book I’m reading about living after loss; I’ll share tidbits of it throughout this article.
Regretting things you said and did while your loved one was alive is normal. You are not alone, you are not a bad person, and you don’t need to hate yourself. No matter what you did or said, you CAN find forgiveness, healing, and peace. But — and this isn’t the fun part — you have to go through the grief. Don’t run away from the painful grieving process or try to avoid dealing with feelings of regret. The more you try to avoid the pain of grief, the harder it’ll be to survive life after losing someone you love. And the more you’ll hate yourself. Don’t let yourself fall into that downward spiral despair! Instead, learn how to start facing and dealing with regretful feelings when you lose a loved one.
“To go through grief requires incredible reserves of patience,” writes Bob Deits in Life after Loss: A Practical Guide to Renewing Your Life after Experiencing Major Loss. “At some point along the way, you will feel terribly sad, lonely, lost, angry — or all of these. To get in touch with such unpleasant feelings, your have to be convinced there is absolutely no other way out of your grief than straight through the middle of it. You must have a strong sense of purpose and direction.”
There are no quick or easy tips for dealing with grief and regret when someone you love dies, but there is love and forgiveness. Nobody can heal you or take the pain away, but you can receive healing and forgiveness if you open your heart and look up.
How to Deal With Regret After the Death of a Loved One
I’m sorry for your loss. It hurts when someone you love dies — especially if you regret the way you treated him or her. I can’t erase your pain or make the grieving process go away, but I can share how I dealt with my regrets…and how I came to a place of joy, peace, forgiveness in my life.
What I regretted after she died
My grandma took me in when I was 15 years old. I ran away from home — my mom was a single schizophrenic woman who was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive. I was in foster homes as a child; I didn’t meet my dad until I was 29 and went to Jerusalem, Israel to introduce myself.
My grandma was in her early 60s when she not only took me in, but also moved to a different apartment so I could have my own room. She took me to Mexico twice, Hawaii, and Venezuela on vacations. She supported me while I went to high school, and gave me a huge weekly allowance. She helped me get a part-time job, a driver’s license, and a car. A Ford Mustang! She even helped pay for my university degree.
I lived with her for less than a year; she wept openly the day I moved out. She loved me so much, she sacrificed her time and money and vacation time for me…and I abandoned her. She supported and encouraged me, and I shrugged off her love, dismissed her needs, and waved away her sincere questions and interest in my life. I was a spoiled and entitled teenager. I was emotionally damaged because of my mom. I dropped out of high school and moved to a different city to have my own adventures; my grandma had to move back to a one-bedroom apartment. An old lady, moving all by herself.
My grandma died when she was 73 years old, alone in her apartment. When someone you love dies, dealing with regret is a long process. Recovering from loss and surviving grief takes time and energy. Forgiving yourself is a daily choice, a conscious decision, a deliberate act of self-compassion.
Talk about the things you regret saying and doing
Being honest about what you regret is the first step to dealing with it. You don’t have to write your regrets in a blog post in order to deal with them, but you should write them somewhere. Your private journal, or a piece of scrap paper. Burn it later if you want, but get it out of you.
The regrets you keep hidden and secret will fester and grow. Talking about the regretful things you said and did won’t heal the pain of losing someone you love, but it will start the healing process. How? By ripping off the dark covers of shame and guilt. By bringing your words and actions out into the light, so you can start dealing with the regrets haunting you. When someone you love dies, you can’t apologize or make amends…but you can start working your way through the grief.
Learn how to work through the grieving process
“Because grief work is so demanding, it’s common to look for any way to get out of going through it,” writes Deits in Life After Loss. “No one wants to face grief. No one wants to feel the loneliness and heartache it brings.”
We talk about grief and the grieving process a lot, but we don’t talk about the pain of dealing with regret when someone you love dies. Instead, we try to avoid the shame and we try to move quickly past the guilt. We’re consumed with feelings that we can’t talk about — and this makes it impossible to truly heal the pain of regretting how we treated loved ones before they died.
Time alone does NOT heal grief. Letting time pass is not how to deal with regret when someone you love dies. The guilt, shame, and regret you feel won’t simply go away if you keep looking away from it. Regret stays with you, a dark shadow monster crouching in the corner.
Allow regret to be part of your grief when someone you love dies
What do you regret about what you said and did when your loved one was alive? Maybe you were selfish and neglectful, like I was. Maybe you were physically or emotionally abusive. Maybe your actions caused serious relationship problems; maybe your words were mean and spiteful.
Grieve the choices you made. You made mistakes, you allowed yourself to be caught up in negative or toxic emotions, you made selfish decisions. You really were doing the best you could at that time — even though now, looking back, you think you could’ve done or behaved better.
If you’re having trouble letting go, read How to Let Go of Someone You Love.
Help Dealing With Regret After a Loved One Dies
Read Life after Loss: A Practical Guide to Renewing Your Life after Experiencing Major Loss. Bob Deits provides essential wisdom and practical exercises for navigating grief and recovery. This book is fully updated with new advice on dealing with catastrophic losses, guidance on using technology to foster connections and maintain support networks, and reflections from Deits’ ongoing counseling and his firsthand experiences with dealing with grief and going through the grieving process.
Life After Loss will help you. If you’ve experienced a death – you’re dealing with guilt and regret – you need to focus on finding positive ways to put your life back together. It’ll be different, but still meaningful.
When someone you love dies, take time to learn how to deal with regret in healthy ways. There are no shortcuts. There are no quick tips for dealing with regret.
But, there is forgiveness. God has already forgiven you…have you forgiven yourself? Feel free to share your thoughts below. If you want, write about the regrets you have and the choices you made. Talk about the guilt and shame you feel, the struggle it is to deal with regret after losing a loved one.
Be honest with yourself, and humble with your God. Receive the love and freedom Jesus offers. Live in peace with yourself, and you will learn to live without regret.