An unexpected part of grief can be guilt. There can be absolutely nothing to feel guilty about – yet often in the grief process people experience a nagging sense of guilt that is not easily shaken off.
“I’m convinced that guilt is a natural part of the grief cycle. It’s a human response to trying to find a logical, explainable answer for every tragedy. Yet the ramifications of unresolved guilt are profound… Rest your guilt-driven grief on God’s grace. Please in Jesus’ name, lay aside those feelings of guilt.” Jack Hayford, I’ll Hold You in Heaven
Almost everyone who experiences a loss goes through a time when they blame themselves and feel guilty. The only question is whether the guilt is “true” guilt or “false” guilt. In true guilt, you really have done something to feel guilty about. If you took massive amounts of illegal drugs while you were pregnant, and your baby died as a direct result of the drugs, you have appropriate guilt. Ironically, this is rather straightforward to deal with. You confess and repent of the sin (agree with God that it was wrong and make a decision to turn away from the sin) and then you can experience God’s forgiveness.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
It’s as simple as that. You are forgiven. Your guilt has been put on Jesus’ account and paid in full on the cross. You may still feel guilty and you may still have consequences from your sin that you have to live with, but that particular sin no longer has your name on it. You are forgiven.
The more common guilt in grief is “false” guilt. False guilt is guilt that doesn’t have your name on it but keeps knocking at your door. False guilt is where you did nothing wrong, nothing anyone else wouldn’t have done, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that would have contributed in any way to the death of your baby, and yet you blame yourself and feel guilty. False guilt is emotional quicksand. The sooner you realize you’re in it, the easier it is to get out of it. And, once you’re well into it, the best way out is to ‘lean into it’ and ‘float on top of it’ to get out of it. By this I mean acknowledge it, see it for what it is (false guilt) and counterbalance its falsehood with the truth.
In John 8:31-32 Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
When false guilt tries to entangle you, combat it with the truth. If you hear your internal dialogue saying, “If only I had…” “If only I hadn’t…” “I should have…” Why didn’t I…” “I could have…” then you know you are playing the blame game – and you are the only contestant.
Replace those “If only, should have, could have” statements, with ones that reflect the truth. Things like: “There was nothing I could have done to prevent this loss.” “It was out of my control.” “I did all I could do for my baby.” “No one could have done anything to avoid this tragedy.”
Pick one of those phrases, or one of your own that reflects the truth, and make that your ‘mantra’ – your truth slogan. Write it down on a 3x5 card and keep it handy. Whenever you feel false guilt coming on, pull it out and read it out loud to yourself at least 5 times. Replace false guilt with the truth. Then on the back of the card write Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And read that out loud also. This could also be done electronically, if you prefer.
If you actively do this for 9 or 10 weeks and don’t feel any lessening of your false guilt, you may benefit from talking with a pastor or counselor. Hearing from an objective third party that you have no guilt in your baby’s death may be what you need in order to put false guilt to rest once and for all.
Whatever you do, try not to get caught up in the blame game.