Caregiving: The Grief Process: Guilt

An excerpt from my book, One Arm One Leg 100 Words, Overcoming Unbelievable Hardships


Some therapists believe that guilt is a part of the third stage of bargaining, but others say it is its own fourth stage. I think Charlene wondered if she caused her own stroke by any lifestyle or behavior decisions that she made, however, none of the risk factors for stroke applied (high blood pressure, family history of heart disease or stroke, high cholesterol, heavy smoking and drinking).

The doctors never pinpointed a cause of the blood clot that caused the stroke. She might have felt a little guilty about not going to an urgent care doctor after the second day of her headache. I, on the other hand, certainly did struggle with a lot of guilt when I discovered that she probably would have been all right if only I would have had more knowledge about strokes.

Many thoughts crowded my head. I should have insisted that the paramedics take her to the larger medical center instead of the smaller private hospital. I should have also been on the internet every second doing research about strokes. I should have learned about the clot-busting drug, tPA, and other things that could have saved her brain from damage. I should have been in the doctor’s face every time a decision was to be made. I should have been a doctor instead of a finance guy!

It is normal to experience guilt after any tragedy. However, I forced myself to quickly get over it. I knew that condemning guilt did not come from God. In fact, I always had a great analogy about guilt that I would share with anyone who was struggling with it. I decided to take my own advice. Here is how the story goes:

Guilt should be treated like a disposable diaper. A diaper is designed for one purpose, and one purpose only, to catch the poop from a baby. The guilt in my analogy is the poop. There are two types of guilt, undeserved guilt and deserved guilt. When you feel guilty, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself, “Is there a legitimate reason that I should feel this guilt?” If the answer is yes, then correct the wrong. Apologize to the person, fix what you broke, call who you should have called, turn yourself into the police, whatever it is, fix it! Then take the diaper that the guilt is now in and dispose of it, never to see it again.

If the answer to the above question is no, make sure you can be honest, fair and objective about your answer. If you are not sure, then ask the opinion of a well-respected mentor. If the answer is still no, then there is no wrong to correct. You are innocent. The guilt is undeserved. No apology is necessary. There is nothing to fix, nothing broken, no one to call.

Okay, you get the picture. Then take the same diaper that the same guilt is now in, and dispose of it. You never have to see it again. In either case, the guilt (diaper) is gone. (That’s why they call it a disposable diaper, because once it is used, it is useless).

In fact, if you don’t dispose of it, it can cook that little baby’s bottom, and become very, very painful. Guilt can also become very, very painful if not disposed of properly. Some people hang on to their guilt for months, for years, or forever! (And they get sick or their personality gets infected from this unresolved guilt.)

Some people are very good at dispensing undeserved guilt to others, like mothers, for example. I can think of episodes of Sanford & Son, where Redd Foxx’s character, Fred Sanford would routinely hold his chest, look up into heaven, and say, “Elizabeth, I’m commin’ to join ya’ honey!” This comical skit worked every single time to get his son, Lamont, to do whatever Fred wanted him to do using undeserved guilt.