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What if you are selfish and your grief is all about you?

What if you are selfish and your grief is all about YOU?



In response to my video – ‘what should you be feeling after a death…and why aren’t you?’ I received this very honest and insightful email:

“What if your reaction to a death makes you doubt your own worthiness? Brings to the fore your very negative attitudes about yourself to the extent that you feel guilty for being the one still alive. In fact, should you still be alive when X, who was obviously a far better person, is not? It’s a very selfish attitude obviously”

Nope, not obviously. :)

I’m glad for this question as it’s something I haven’t written about recently.

So here is the truth you won’t often hear – of course it’s about you.

The common thinking is that whatever you go through is simply all about the person who died, and that it should be. This is not true. Death is powerful and transformational…and when it comes to our lives it does just that – transforms and changes.  And part of that is that it will bring up our own ‘stuff’.  Always.

Here are some ways in which it does that: (These don’t often happen consciously and you may not recognise these until you dig deeper and very honestly examine what is coming up for you.)

  • In our generally death fearing and denying society, a death, even of a stranger,  can be a ‘harsh’ wake up and reminder to you that you will die and that people you love will die. That your mum, your husband, your child, your best friend…that they too could die long before you might expect. That our physical bodies are mortal and that death can come at any time. This is one reason why sometimes you may hear about a death of someone you hardly know or don’t know at all…and it have a really profound, and sometimes inexplicable, impact on you.
  • A death in your life can pull the rug out from under your feet. In amongst everything else you are feeling, your sense of identity can be thrown in the air if a role you defined yourself by (carer, parent, spouse for example) feels gone, and you can feel suddenly purposeless. Or you can have fear for the future if, without this person, your plans for what comes next are proven to be fantasy and the future is a blank slate (that can feel like a terrifying abyss for some). All of these things – your identity, your purpose, your future – are all about you.
  • And this last example relates directly to the question that inspired this blog. Death can turn cracks into canyons. If you have any issues of self-love, or self-worth, or have had tendencies to depression for example…guess what….what were little cracks can suddenly be broken wide open. I know this happened to me. After all the deaths in my life I spent about 18 months pretty seriously depressed….and I blamed it all on the deaths that had happened. But the thing is I was depressed already! The stress I went through, the impact death had on me, just cracked open issues that were already there. Some people can suffer greatly after a death, realising that actually they don’t care about themselves at all, and that they feel like nothing without the person who died….without realising that there were very likely some well-hidden (or not so well) self-love and worth stuff going on for them already…and death had brought it all right up to the surface.

This is why it is so important that we are able to honestly feel whatever we feel, can investigate those feelings openly, and admit to ourselves what is really going on. Because if you cannot identify what is going on how in the world can you do anything about it?!

If you’ve had a pattern of depression, and the volume of it is suddenly turned up to an ear-drum bursting level, and you just blame it all on the death without realising that is about you….you are powerless to work on it.

If death shows up a real lack of love and care for yourself…and you just call those feelings ‘grief’ then you can’t consciously take the steps needed towards self-love.

So no, it isn’t selfish. It’s life. Things don’t happen to us in tidy little boxes that stay separate from every other tidy little box of our experience.  It’s a holistic process.  Death brings up a lot around the person who died…and also brings up a lot about us.

And this is one of the gifts of it. Because when a painful area or issue is brought to the surface…you can then do something about it.  That the death of someone has the power to send you on a journey of self-love, to help you break a pattern of depression, to guide you to finding your purpose or to finding a sense of identity within you (rather than tied to external factors or people) is one of the beautiful things about death.

For the person who wrote to me, death has brought to their attention some pretty serious self-love and worth issues.  And this is a gift because, from here, they can see the issue and now have the opportunity to do something about it.

And it means that the journey you take to heal from grief (which will also be a lot about what comes up for you too) will let you heal far more than just your grief itself.