Ask Dr. Tim: Three years ago my wife of fifteen years died in an auto accident.

Ask Dr. Tim: Three years ago my wife of fifteen years died in an auto accident.


Three years ago my wife of fifteen years died in an auto accident. I have been having a most difficult time getting on with my life. Though others have tried to convince me otherwise, I feel guilty for her death. You see, she decided to take a trip to visit her parents who live out of state. She asked if I wanted to go but I had already signed up for a golf tournament the same weekend. I asked her to postpone the trip but she chose not to.

I can’t stop thinking that if I had been with her and driving the car, this would never had happened. I may have been able to avoid the erratic driving of the other drunk driver. She was such a kind, loving, and talented person. She didn’t deserve to die. I am still heartbroken.



Dear Heartbroken,

I am truly sorry for your loss. And your wife’s death does sound like a true loss. Certainly you are right, she didn’t deserve to die. This brings up two important issues: grief and guilt. They are often nasty bedfellows. Grief is a natural process of which you might still need to do some personal work on.

Guilt has many friends. While we might think no one would ever wish to be a friend of guilt, many people find it oddly advantageous to hang on to it. First, if we hold guilt towards ourselves we likely will not place anger or blame on the other person. It sounds like you may still be angry for your wife choosing not to wait for you.

The thought that you could have prevented the accident is magical thinking. It is pure magic to imagine that all the circumstances of her being on the exact stretch of road, at the exact moment the drunk swerved…is just not reality.

Also please keep in mind that there are at least two kinds of guilt: 1. Justified Guilt, and 2. Garbage Guilt. Justified Guilt occurs when we have truly done something wrong and there is usually some form of restitution. With Garbage Guilt we have done nothing wrong and there is no form of restitution. The first is rational and worthy of a proactive response. The second is irrational and impossible to provide a healthy responds. All we can do with Garbage Guilt is toss it away. Perhaps it is time to take a trip to the local landfill and make a deposit?

Dr. Tim

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  1. sandra sellers:

    Very good. I learned that I have garbage guilt due to my Dads death. He was 87. So not necessarily my fault. Thanks

    • Dr. Tim:

      So as you well know, garbage guilt takes a toll on us. The nice thing about realizing what we are doing is that we can call it out for what it is…irrational thinking, and let it go. If we don’t let it go, what are getting from holding on to it?