A Coaching Power Tool created by Jessica Kistler
(Life after Loss Coach, UNITED STATES)
One affect of grief can be guilt. The in dividual often wonders, ‘did I pay enough attention to my loved one?’, ‘could I have done more for them?’ and ‘did they know how much I cared.’ This feeling of guilt is magnified when a loved one chooses to take their own life. The mourner turns into a survivor. The survivor often feels, ‘how could I have stopped them from taking their own life?’, ‘why didn’t I see this coming?’, ‘why didn’t they get help for their depression?’, ‘I could have done more to help them?, ‘if they had only known how much I loved them they wouldn’t have committed suicide?’
In the author’s personal experience the guilt caused her to question her own self worth. The guilt can be a heavy burden that the survivor has to bear. And can at times foster at victim mentality of helplessness that crosses over to other areas of life.
I can’t or shouldn’t do this because I was affected by the suicide of my loved one?
This burden of guilt one of the biggest challenges that a person faces in moving on and processing their grief.
Forgiveness is vital in releasing one’s feeling of personal responsibility from their loved one suicide. As well as forgiving the individual whom committed suicide.
In ICA’s reading on Responsibility vs. Blame describe Forgiveness best:
Forgiving others and ourselves doesn’t make whatever happened right. It simply means that we let go and embrace the present. Forgiveness is self focus. Forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person, but it has everything to do with us. When we forgive someone, we release ourselves, and free ourselves from the burden of blame. As soon as we stop blaming and decide to forgive, we can let go of that which brings us pain, and embrace the possibility of something else.
Responsibility is about giving up on the chance of a different past and focussing on choosing the future.
Forgiveness is really the only way to relinquish the power that guilt has on the individual. However the process truly releasing this forgiveness can be challenging and take time.
The conclusion that the author found most liberating was realizing that it was really the CHOICE of her father to end his own life. And that by choosing that path he was released from the pain of depression that affected him most of his life.
Mourner’s Application and Tools
One possible tool to use is visualizations. In cases where death is anticipated and sometimes welcomed that final conversation is had that can resolve and aid in ‘saying goodbye.’ In most cases of suicide the mourner is unaware the last conversation is the last time they will see their loved one. Guiding them through a empty chair visualization where the final conversation is imagined can be beneficial in resolving not only the occurrence of the suicide but any issues that may have existed in the relationship. Journaling or writing a letter may also help the mourner process their feelings of guilt.
I hired a Grief Coach after the recent death of my mother, one exercise also helped me connect with my father. When working with Tabitha Jayne, she helped me understand the importance of continuing a relationship with my mother spirituality.
This exercise encourages the client to even ask questions of the deceased and try to listen for the answer, this can be effective as a written exercise. When encouraging the client to try this exercise emphasis the fact that the deceased is no longer confined to the pain of their body and the confusion of a depressed mind. By having that freedom one can imagine that their loved one may respond differently after death.
I remember sitting on a rock next to the river where I had scattered my father’s ashes writing in my journal. Because of the newness of the death the note that started off angry. All the things that my father would miss in my life because he was gone. But I wrote and knew that eventually I would forgive him.
Just like most individuals most grief or life-after-loss coaches has experienced that transformative affects of grief. However many grief coaches may not have personal experience with grief caused by suicide. Suicide victims experience complicated grief by blaming themselves for their loved ones death. Many times they hear, ‘it is not your fault,’ however it is hard for the survivor to truly believe this. Sometimes the guilt causes survivors to turn to drugs, alcohol, and overeating as a way of punishing themselves.
An important part when working with a victim of suicide is guiding them to a realization of the loved ones choice releasing themselves from personal responsibility. It is vital for them to forgive themselves and their loved one.
Many different visualizations use the technique of really imagining the negative feeling in this case guilt having shape and color really encouraging the individual to be able to touch and feel their emotion. Almost as in a bubble that towards the end of the visualization they are able to imagine floating away. And the space that is left filling that space with forgiveness. Asking them to describe and see and feel the new feeling that is there in forgiveness.
One of the purposes of forgiveness to add lightness. By having this burden lifted the client can move towards other goals with ease.
To ask clients throughout the process:
- What purpose was the guilt serving in regards to processing their grief?
- How has the guilt transformed?
- How was it affecting their life and how does it affect their life now?
- How do they view their loved one now?
- What is the relationship they have with their loved one now that they are gone? Do they believe they can still communicate with the deceased?
International Coach Academy Pty. Ltd., 2009. Responsibility vs Blame.