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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.




Josefine Speyer October 21, 2014 at 8:46 am

Dear Kirstie,
This is a lovely piece of writing and very timely. I am putting a talk together on why people avoid talking about death. And in a nutshell, it is to avoid looking at the cracks that might show if we did! So many people come to me after the death of someone close to them. But it is not bereavement counselling we do. They embark on a journey of discovery of themselves to make a real and deeper connection with themselves and their lives and life in general. Of course this is causing them considerable pain, but the cover has been blown and they are ready to ‘come home’ as it were, to know themselves. So, yes, in every death, in every crisis, every dark cloud we find ourselves under, there is also a silver lining to the situation. It is a chance to embracing ourselves more deeply. It is a way of embracing life and embracing death as a natural part of life. It leads to gratitude and a more realistic estimation of oneself and others. Death – dying and bereavement – can be such openers to life in a positive way.
All good wishes,

Kay October 21, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Kristi.. Thank you. I take notes on your videos and print out your emails. After your response to my concerns with the 5 steps and this latest one. I do find that yes, it is about me in a way. I, now in the second year, do not have the attention from others, the compassion, etc. I needed that then and I need it now. I do feel alone, even if I have a lot of family close by. I need to ask them how they are coping. I am very busy with civic volunteering and such and self-worth and love is not a problem. I am smart and talented, but feel so alone without my spouse. Eating, sleeping, etc. every day, every night. I have to find a way to fill that crack and I certainly don’t mean another relationship, nor an animal. I don’t want to care for something that will later cause me more grief with their loss. I have a willingness to heal, but I still have the resistance and I feel it is with my inner feeling of abandonment. Life all around me goes on (as couples) and I am alone.

Paula October 21, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Really enjoyed your spot-on comment to Kristie’s piece. You both do such good work – thank goodness someone is telling it like it is.

Josefine Speyer October 22, 2014 at 12:37 am

Kay, I so understand what you mean. Every person and situation is different, but it may take year to get passed that pain and for you to find a new life where your spouse is no longer present in the way he was and he has a different place. It is hard, some days more so than others. I hope you feel less lonely over time.

Josefine Speyer October 22, 2014 at 12:41 am

That is kind of you to say. I rushed my comment off in a hrry. Wished I had stopped to given it a little more thought. I did not mean to sound so certain because there isn’t such certainty. Well, well…

Kristie West October 22, 2014 at 5:54 am

Hi Josefine,

There are many reasons why people avoid talking about death…and yes, fear of what will ‘come out’ can certainly be one of them.
Keep up your good work!

Kristie West October 22, 2014 at 6:02 am

Hi Kay,
What you write is very interesting. Often we are so busy staring at what we believe to be an empty space that we are unable and sometimes unwilling to look around and see how our life has shifted and who and what is our ‘company’ now. And you’re right, it absolutely doesn’t need to be a new relationship – of course not. It’s not about just filling a gap – that is just really treating a symptom.

It’s great that you can acknowledge your resistance to healing – that is very important and very insightful because that resistance is precisely what will stop you from being able to heal (and what stops most people). The good news is that the resistance can be cleared if you are willing to investigate it.
Here is something to think about: you mention that before you had attention from others because of your husband’s death…this is common and some people can get a bit hooked on that attention and this can give the a motive to stay in their pain as, they may believe, without the grief they wouldn’t get any attention at all, even if it does seem to wane after a while. Bereavement forums can often be filled with people in this situation who, through their grief, find themselves connected to others, and with a sense of community. That can seem like a good thing…but it is not at all helpful for healing. This may not be your situation at all but it popped into my head reading what you shared so perhaps something for you to think over.

Remember you CAN completely heal. And it has nothing at all to do with time…and everything to do with what you DO with that time. Whether you heal and when that happens is entirely up to you.

Leo October 23, 2014 at 10:49 pm

Hi Kristie – I am surprised to read that the common thinking about grief is that it is all about the person who died, as it seems simply obvious to me that it is all about the response of the people who are left to the death.

When someone dies it is our thoughts, our emotions, our physical reactions that collectively we call grief. In my experience grief has nothing to do with the actual person who died. How can it?

My pain is my pain, not the pain of the one who died. My memories of that person are my memories. What I feed with my attention is my choice. And that choice is possible only now, in this very present moment.

Seems to me that only when we take full response-ability for our own experience, and in particular what we give our attention to, can we also give ourselves the “ability to respond” in ways that are healthy and healing.

much love always,


Kristie West October 23, 2014 at 10:58 pm

Wise as always Leo!
It seems obvious to me too. But I think in the general grief community is the idea that death has a pretty standard impact on you and there is nothing you can do about that impact, that you are not personally responsible for it, that it is completely the ‘fault’ of the event that has occurred.
It’s unfortunate because, as you know, when we see that an event is simply an event and that whether it is good or bad and what impact it has on us is down to us…then we realise we have the power to change our own experience. Every time. As you say, it comes down to responsibility and understanding that your experience of something is of your own design and creation.
So absolutely…our pain is our pain…and, as I’ve written about above, there is even more to it in that it isn’t just owning the experience but knowing that a lot of what people think is happening because of the death actually doesn’t have that much to do with it at all – it’s just the thing that brought other cracks to light.