When I lost my dad, I felt so guilty. I blamed myself for not encouraging him enough to stay healthy and go to the doctor more. I blamed myself for not being able to properly assess his health and realize that he was dying at that very moment. I blamed myself for not being able to save him. There were all sorts of guilty feelings that suddenly arose and overtook me. Did he know how much I loved him? Did he know how much he meant to me? Did he know that I would have traded places with him right then?
Feelings of guilt are normal for those who grieve. It's funny how we give ourselves so much power sometimes, as if any of it was in our control. Let’s say I did encourage my dad to be healthier, and I was able to properly assess him and realize that he was having a massive heart attack, and he still died. Then what? I would then be blaming myself for doing something wrong when I intervened and making things worse. The truth of the matter is that I could have the best skills and abilities in the world, but if God was ready for my dad, there was absolutely nothing I could do to change that.
I think that one reason we experience guilt as a part of the grieving process is because we give ourselves too much power. In some instances, some of us think that we have the power to keep someone from dying just because our love for them is so strong, and then when they’re taken away, we feel as though we have lost complete control (as if we had it to begin with). Our loss feels like we have let that person down somehow. In other instances, we can experience guilt because we feel like we may have done something wrong or hurtful towards that person in the past and we don’t know if they had forgiven us or not. In both instances, we are not seeing the big picture.
Every single one of us is allotted only a certain amount of time on this earth. That time was predetermined before we were even born. When we have done all the work that we were supposed to do on this earth and God is ready for us, there is absolutely nothing that anyone can do to change that timeline. It’s ok if the CPR didn’t work, it’s ok if their sickness and death were sudden, it’s ok if their heart suddenly gave out, it’s ok if they slip away from us without a true diagnosis. In Psalm 116:15 it says, “Precious (valued, treasured, cherished) in the sight of The Lord is the death of his faithful servants.” God does not take our death lightly, he treasures it and holds us near to him. Our individual deaths are all a part of God’s plan, and as Christians we have to remember that God’s plan is bigger than the pain or guilt that we may be feeling, and he understands, and he cares.
Unless you had a hand in causing your loved one’s death, you have no reason to feel guilty. The only people who should feel guilty are people who have acted maliciously, and in most cases, you haven’t. Guilt is an unnecessary feeling with which we burden ourselves when deep down inside we know that there was nothing that we could do to prevent it. As long as we hold on to guilt, it helps us to feel like there was still more that we could have, should have, or would have done. We have to let that go. Aren’t we already going through enough heartache grieving our loved one? Why would we also put on the burden of carrying guilt for something that God had already planned to happen?
Remember when Jesus said that he was going to prepare a place for us? Well, what’s the point of him preparing a place for us if we’re not going to dwell in it? As God is preparing our place for us in Heaven, we are also being prepared down here on this earth to be able to dwell in that place. This has been a part of the plan from the beginning, so when we are hit with feelings of guilt, we have to remind ourselves that we do not need to feel guilty for God’s plan coming together.
When you are able to start freeing yourself from the unnecessary guilt, you will start to notice a subtle hint of lightness that overcomes you in time. This is not to say that you will never have feelings of self blame that arise, but once you realize that there was nothing more you could have done, you see and feel things a bit differently. Once you realize that there is no way for us to “mess up” God’s plans, we begin to take that burden off of ourselves. I read something once that said, “God’s plans are bigger than our pain.” After reading that, it stuck with me. Just think about it, all the hurt, agony, and despair that we feel when we lose someone is unlike any pain I’ve ever felt before, and God’s plans are still bigger than that. That means that God’s plans (to prosper and not harm us and to give us hope and a future) have to be massive!!
We have to trust in God through every stage of grief. In Proverbs 3:5,6 it says, “Trust in The Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In ALL [not a few, not a couple, not some, but ALL] your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.” There is absolutely nothing that is easy about the grieving process but we have to remember that God is faithful and had our lives mapped out before we were even born. God has a reason and purpose for everything that happens in our lives. This was already in the plans, so take some pressure off of yourself and know that you can begin living guilt free today!
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema