‘GUILT. Guilt comes from a mistaken belief that we could have, or should have, prevented the death from happening, or from regret over irreconciled aspects of the relationship. In truth, we all do the best we can given our human shortcomings. We cannot predict the future, nor do we have power over the events in our universe. It is human nature to subconsciously blame oneself rather than accept these truths.’ (From a Handbook for Survivors of Suicide by Jeffrery Jackson)
It breaks my heart every time I hear of another young life lost to suicide and another family shattered.
When a newly bereaved parent joins the support group, nine times out of ten the first thing they write about is now they feel responsible for their child’s death.
As parents we feel we should be able to protect our children from all harm, therefore when anything happens to them we tend to blame ourselves. When a child dies by suicide, whether a teenager, a young adult or an older adult we still feel somehow that we should have been able to do something to prevent it.
Why didn’t we see the signs? If we did see the signs, why didn’t we intervene? Why didn’t they come to us for help? We failed them, we let them down. I hear this over and over again.
If course this is illogical. We know we loved our children with every fibre of our being and we would literally have laid down our lives to save them, but we couldn’t.
We are bombarded with messages everywhere about parental responsibility and pride. If a child gets a glowing report at school, gets a good degree or a new job, parents glow with pride. ‘We must be doing something right’ they say.
So does this mean that we did something wrong if our child dies by suicide? Of course not, but try telling that to a parent whose child has died. How do we still feel proud of our son or daughter and what does it say about our parenting skill?. We feel like it is the ultimate failure as a parent and it can be crippling on top of the grief of losing our child, we have to cope with the stigma and guilt on top of our grief and it feels unbearable.
From my experience guilt is the most destructive and obstructive emotion and is the biggest hurdle we have to overcome if we want to start to recover and heal and learn to live with our loss.
I only had one counselling session; it was about 4 months after Toby died. I felt that I should really find out how to handle this from a professional and I chose my counsellor carefully. I wanted someone who could really relate to my pain and had experience in this area. I went to the first session and handed over my £40. The first thing she said to me was ‘Tell me about Toby?’ I left there an hour later and howled uncontrollably all the way home in the car, screaming over and over ‘I killed him’.
You see I had spent an hour telling this lady about Toby, everything I had done for him, how I had picked him up every time he fell, how I had baled him out, supported him and nurtured him. But all I could see was that I should have left him alone more to get on with his life, therefore I was convinced that my overbearing mothering was what had led him to kill himself. I had never taught him to cope with problems on his own. It was my fault!
Fortunately this feeling did not last, and I was able to see that all I was guilty of was loving my son and doing what I thought was best for him at the time. If I had cut him loose and let him get on with it I would just be beating myself up for not doing more.
Three things helped,
The first was reading a very practical and helpful book written by Jeffrey Jackson who lost his wife to suicide.
The chapter on Guilt really helped me process my feelings and put them in perspective.
When I read the following:-
You are not responsible for your loved one’s suicide in any way, shape, or form. Write it down. Say it to yourself over and over again, (even when it feels false). Tattoo it onto your brain. Because it’s the truth.
I wept and wept. I felt a huge sense of relief
The second was part of an article I ready called ‘Reinforcement in the Aftermath of Suicide’
|RESPONSIBILITY: Putting it into perspective.|
|To assume responsibility for this death, or to place responsibility upon another, robs the one who died of their personhood and invalidates the enormity of their pain and their desperate need for relief.|
The third was when I went to my GP and I told him that I would have found it easier to cope with losing Toby if he had died of an illness. He said to me ‘Your son did die of an illness, it was called depression’.
We no more caused our child’s death than a parent who loses a child to cancer, our child was crippled with an illness, it was just an illness that no one could see.
So……..where does that leave me now…….
In reality, as a parent we will never totally get rid of this guilt, it is natural and programmed into us, but we can fight to stop it jeopardising our recovery.
I feel very proud of my son, and I know I was the best mother I knew how to be. I was not responsible for his death, but of course I suffer from the normal parental guilt that I would have felt even if he had lived.
It is hard when I am at work, or at social events to hear parents bragging about their child’s achievements, I am not bitter – it is great for them, but I can’t tell them how well my son turned out. I can tell them however, about what a beautiful person he was and feel proud he is my son even though he is not around and will not achieve anymore milestones. I am not ashamed of the way he died, as I now know that thousands of beautiful, talented youngsters take their lives every year, and his death was not a reflection on my parenting skills.