Will I ever get over the guilt?

guilt-heart‘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.

http://www.suicidology.org/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=229&name=DLFE-73.pdf

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’

http://heartbeatsurvivorsaftersuicide.org/materials/reinforcement.htm

RESPONSIBILITY:  Putting it into perspective.
I have a responsibility TO those I love…
to be loving, patient, considerate and kind, to be loyal, respectful and honest, to be appreciative, encouraging and comforting, to share myself and care for myself; …..to be the best possible “ME”…….

BUT

I am not responsible FOR them…
not for their achievements, successes or triumphs, not for their joy, gratification or fulfilment, not for their defeats, failures or disappointments, not for their thoughts, choices or mistakes, …..And, most of all, not for their suicide…….
For HAD I been responsible, this death would not have occurred.

***

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.

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This entry was posted in bereavement, Grief, guilt, Healing, Loss, parents, suicide. Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to Will I ever get over the guilt?

  1. shaye says:

    Recognize so much of my own experience in this post, Anne. And interesting your experience with the counsellor. My younger daughter went to many different therapists after her sister committed suicide. Some of them helped for a bit, but never quite the right way. Then she went to a therapist who after a couple of sessions said to my daughter, “I’ve heard a lot about your sister and about your relationship with your sister before she died. But I’d like to hear about how you felt when your sister died. And how you feel now.” My daughter said, for the first time in the three years after her sister died, she actually started to cry during therapy. And she cried the entire session.
    For me, the worst times are when I think about what might have been. If only I’d…
    The best times are when I just think about what I’m going to do right now. No past, no future. Just now.
    Bless you, Anne. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  2. alispencer says:

    I agree with every word , Thanks for finding this Anne xx

  3. lensgirl53 says:

    Thank you…this has been most helpful. Guilt is always at the forefront of our minds but the statements: “For HAD I been responsible, this death would not have occurred.” and ‘Your son did die of an illness, it was called depression’.” …makes perfect sense. If only our minds would agree with our hearts.

  4. lensgirl53 says:

    I am reblogging this on lensgirl53.wordpress.com

  5. lensgirl53 says:

    Reblogged this on In the Wake of Suicide….trying to understand and commented:
    I find this to be very helpful. Even though, I seem logical and understanding of what happened to my son one minute…in the next I can be overwhelmed with a sense that I should have known…should have been more helpful but in reality, I could not have know that he would die by suicide or I WOULD HAVE SAVED HIM!!!!!

    • Pat O says:

      If I had known I would have stopped him! IF HE HAD ONLY REACHED OUT IN THOSE LAST COUPLE OF MINUTES! IF ONLY HE HAD CALLED. HIS PHONE WAS BESIDE HIM!
      IF ONLY… DAMN IT HURTS…….

      • annwae says:

        I know the ‘if onlys’ will drive you insane. I pray you find peace. I found I don’t ask that any more, I have found peace and acceptance but it is a tough journey.

      • Roseanna says:

        I feel the same way I talked to my daughter every day and noticed the week before she had started secluding herself more and I questioned her on and she said it was because I was working overtime and she worked nights and was too tired to wait up for me made sense I aske her again are you sure everything is ok and she assured me is was. The day she hung herself I talked to earlier in the day everything is ok mom she had her hair done was planning a trip what did I miss why didn’t I check on her i smothered her and babied her but she felt like a looser. It’s so hard to wonder if when she was dying did she call out for me I cry daily and go through the motions of living for my living children but I feel like an empty shell

    • kluvcards says:

      I feel the same way. I would move mountains for my kids. He would not have died had I any say so in the matter. ❤

  6. jmgoyder says:

    I am so sorry. Lensgirl reblogged the post and I clicked the link. I thought I was already following your blog. Now I am.

  7. annwae says:

    He didn’t want to leave you he wanted to leave his pain behind. You did nothing wrong, you loved him and you are a good mother. Try writing him a letter and talking to him. You know you did your best and I hope in time you can know that in your heart x

  8. bez says:

    Anne thank you so much for your blog.My lovely kind generous son committed suicide nearly two years ago. I can relate to all these feelings of guilt which I am finding so hard to let go of. I am writing this late because of another sleepless night.I go to bed thinking of him, wake up thinking of him and during the day even when you keep yourself busy the thoughts still creep in. I feel the second anniversary is worse than the first somehow. I try to think of the happy times and there were many but all I can think of is the weeks before he died and how he died. I know he loved his family and I know he was in such pain and turmoil and anguish that he felt that was the way out because I know he put on a social media site (although I do not participate in them) a few days before he died “the hardest part of life is living it” which says how he felt. He left a note to the family explaining why he chose to go which is some comfort I suppose. I often think if he died in a car accident I could accept it better but perhaps I am deluding myself. Anyway I know there are thousands going through what I am and my heart goes out to you and everyone else who has lost a child because nothing will be the same again but I know I HAVE to find a way through it for the sake of his grandma, his aunty, my husband his twin brother and myself. I am glad that you are finding some peace. God bless you.

    • annwae says:

      Hi Bez, I a, so sorry you are going through this nightmare too. I said the same to my GP, that I would find it easier if he had died from an illness or an accident, and he said to me ‘but he did die from an illness, it was depression’. This helped med see that my son had a disease. I didn’t get a note but I suspect my sons sentiments would be similar to your sons. They were just sensitive souls too beautiful for this world

  9. Carla says:

    After our son completed his suicide jan. Of 2013 my life has been a struggle out of hell. I came upon your post. The hardest thing I’ve been dealing with is the guilt. We knew what state he was in. He was 34 at the time. He was our first born son. He was my everything. He new our love for him was endless! I’m trying to understand why he would do this to us. I know that it was to end his immense pain. He had been diagnosed with bi-polar and many years with depression. He had so many right things about him. Some days it’s hard to get my head and heart together on all of this! The guilt post helped a lot. Thankyou.

    • annwae says:

      I’m so sorry Carla. The guilt is so hard to bear and will never go completely but we know in out hearts we loved our sons and did everything we could to save them. They are at peace now. I found this book by Jeffrey Jackson called a Handbook for Survivors of Suicide helped me more than any other. I am glad it helped. Sending love and best wishes

      • Carla says:

        Two days after our sons death we received this little booklet at the funeral home by Jeffery Jackson. Words can’t explain how this book helped us.

  10. Carole says:

    Ann, it has helped me to read all the words above relating to your blog. I lost my wonderful 17 year old son in September 2014 and this is the first Christmas. He was a beautiful and sensitive person and a twin brother to his sister. The guilt is enormous and I know I have to get past the feeling that I have let him down but that is how I feel. Why didn’t I know he was in such a bad place?

    • annwae says:

      Hi Carole, how could you know, they hide it so well. I read a great quote on forgiveness the other day. How can we possibly need to forgive ourselves for not knowing something we did not know. If we had known we would have done anything to save them. If we had been responsible for their lives they would still be here. Of course we will always feel guilt, I think it just goes with the job of being a mother. I hope you can find some peace and loving memories this Christmas, sending love and best wishes x

  11. scott says:

    Carole..I too lost my wonderful son in Sept 2014 and we just managed to get through Xmas and New Year.We didn’t know he was in a bad place either x

    • Carole says:

      Thanks, Scott. It’s so difficult, yesterday was six months since we lost him and I have to plan for his twin’s imminent 18th birthday. I know you will also have all of this. Love to your family x

  12. Brent Nelson says:

    Thank you for this post and those of all the people who have left their comments. I lost my son in Jan of 2013. As you said, the guilt does not totally go away. I have been going through a little more than usual lately. The thoughts and literature here have helped place my thoughts back into a better perspective. Although our lives will never be the same, They are so much better than they were two years ago.

  13. kluvcards says:

    It’s going to take a lot of re-reading and time to process….but I agree with every word you have said. Thank you.

  14. Sharon says:

    I lost my son in 2009…..he shot himself in the heart with a nail gun. I said the same things that I’ve read here “if only he would have died from an illness, maybe I could handle it better”. I actually thought I was going to die from the pain, I just couldn’t bear (and still can’t sometimes) the thoughts of “what if I had….” or “what if I hadn’t”. It’s like a continuing cycle. It is better, but sometimes, like tonight I was overwhelmed with guilt. Bless everyone of you, with your unbearable pain. What used to be a 24-7 unbearable pain now is an occasional unbearable pain. Thank you for all of your comments….it has helped me so much tonight.

  15. Volak Nuon says:

    I lost my son to a suicide on June 23, 2015 he set fire on himself!! I am going crazy !! I don’t think I ever can gain myself back to normal! The guilt is killing me!! I need help!

    • annwae says:

      I am so sorry, I know you are going through hell and wondering how you will survive. You can find a way through. I recommend joining our support group http://www.losingachildtosuicide.ning.com where you will find comfort and support from other parents.

      • Volak Nuon says:

        Thank so much Ann, I am so lost and very much in pain!! I don’t see any hope at this moment! My heart fill with pain and guilt. Thank again I will join the support group.

    • Marie Tobin says:

      Volak, I remember you from a meeting in the fall, my son died last summer also, but i only went to one of those survivor loss meetings in October. My love and prayers to you, please contact me if you wish, i want to reach out again. I too, have a mother’s deep grief and guilt, maybe we can help each other. If you go back to that group in North Andover, maybe we can talk.

      • Volak Nuon says:

        Dear Marie I love to meet with you and talk. I went to a group meeting at North Andover for a couple of time.. However, I did’t go for a while.now. I feel it is so hard for me each day to move on with my life the deep grief and guilt are pounding in my chest!! Some time I felt like it is not truth I was dreaming but when I wake up Victor is not here my son gone for ever! I have join this support group does help me go through this difficult time. All people here are very nice and understand the pain and the griefs I go through. Most people say times will help however, it does not work for me. I miss my son so much!! Here is my contact 978 328- 3329 I hope we can meet.

      • Marie Tobin says:

        I will call you after Easter, love to you….I think you may recognize me. I had told you my sister in law was from Cambodia. Are you on Facebook? I will call.please be kind to yourself. ..all of us did the best we could with the knowledge we had at hand…xo

      • Volak Nuon says:

        I think I remember you. Looking for word to talk to you!Thanks, Volak

  16. Sharon says:

    I feel your pain…..please know that you are not alone in your feelings. I really thought I would lose my mind at first, that is normal, but time does heal even though I didn’t believe it at the time. Hold on. After the initial shock was over (which took quite some time) I would say to myself, “I need to just get through this next hour” ….. and sometimes it was the next 15 minutes. Hold on. Hold on.

  17. Volak Nuon says:

    Dear Sharon, thank very much for your support and understand my feeling. I feel so lucky to find this post!! Thank in Mmmmmmmmmmmmm

  18. Lorrie says:

    Our sweet wonderful daughter Lisa died from suicide on December 24, 2015. She was 35 years young and had struggled for 15 years at least from treatment resistant depression. She was in therapy and had every kind of medicine and treatments out their. We were waiting for a date for the VNS surgery, it was just around the corner. Yet I guess for her the pain and possibility of it not working was just to much. It also blindsided us when she hung herself, as we were always searching for more help. Now the guilt and the what if s just haunt us and the pain of losing her is just overwhelming. I would have done anything to have saved her and taken her pain and all the love we and her fiancée gave her just was not enough. The depression took our daughter and it made her believe that taking her life was the right thing to do. What I now have come to believe is that depression is a very evil disease that tricks and toys with our lived ones. The shame they feel is so sad and I can say and always told my Lisa that I was never ashamed of her illness, just so sorry she had this disease… We must all continue to help others who struggle with depression and I have no ideal how we will make it through this, as it seems the sadness will probably never go away or the guilt we feel. I will get this book by Jeffery Jackson and pray that something, anything we can take away from it will help put some peace in our hearts. We must never let the same depression take over us as it did our children and loved ones, we must fight it every day to win over this evil disease. May God Bless each and everyone of you…

  19. Julie says:

    It’s only been one month since my son took his own life. We are still dealing with the shock and grief of losing him, especially bc he showed no signs. My heart aches for him everyday. The continous cyle of guilt and if only’s flood our minds. We loved him so much that each day hurts being without him. I know that with time my family will get through this but it is so hard moving on without him. The things i read here have given me some comfort. As a parent you can’t help but feel responsible for your child’s actions and reading that statement that i am not responsible for his suicide is reassuring and helps to put it into perspective. Glad i found this.

  20. Bernardine morgan says:

    Our son past away in Mach 2016 , he was 24 he took his own life , I feel like someone has torn my heart out , the guilt I feel , not knowing why the grief and shock is unbearable , my heart aches for him everyday , I agree as a parent you question what Did I do wrong how do you carry on.

  21. Sam collins says:

    Thank you to all the loving parents who have shared the immense pain and anguish of losing a child ( young adult) to suicide. i lost my son to suicide 6 months ago in January. I look back and see the signs but he never spoke of his anguish or suffering and the guilt and sense of responsibility is overwhelming for me and his sisters. I try to be strong and carry on for them. To show them a way through the pain. But I’m faking it and it’s exhausting pretending all the time. I struggle each day inside to carry on, not knowing ‘why’ and it always comes back to guilt and grief of not being able to save him. My heart is literally broken.

  22. Pauline says:

    I lost my son at 17 two years ago to suicide and I have struggled silently I thought it was my fault because I was so protective but all I did was love him more than anything in the world I was never going to let anyone hurt him if I had of had more boundaries for him would he still be here. We gave him everything we could being out only child but is that not what parents do .I never say I had a son I still talk of him as though hes here and we will always remain proud of him .

  23. Tammie Graham says:

    Our family has very recently sufferred the loss of my first born son we are all struggling to get past the unbearable pain we feel. I feel such a sense of emptiness our lives have changed forever.how do we heal and go forward from this seemingly unbearable pain.

  24. Theresa Mccurdy says:

    I just lost my gorgeous beautiful girl to suicide at the age of 31. She was smart, funny and an amazing daughter. I have so m uch guilt.i should have done more x

  25. Theresa Mccurdy says:

    I just lost my gorgeous beautiful girl to suicide at the age of 31. She was smart, funny and an amazing daughter. I have so m uch guilt.i should have done more x sorry- first time i have written on a page.my beautiful girl was so lively and funny, luvd life and done loads.she hit a bit of a low which i thought she would get past, but she never. I dont cry a lot and dont know why x seen this page, thought to myself i need to talk to someone x

  26. Irene says:

    It’s been a week since my beautiful kind talented boy walked in front of a train. I was the last person to speak to him and I will NEVER forgive myself. I adored him but never told him enough, just assumed he already knew. As all of you have said, life is changed forever, the pain is never ending and just living seems pointless.

  27. Carole says:

    Two years ago this week my amazing and wonderful son took his life at 17. He was adored by his family, loved by his friends and very talented. I agree that as a mum I will forever wish I could have known and saved my precious boy; I feel I let him down. In the immediate aftermath we are numb with shock and grief and then we have to pick up the pieces for the sake of our families. The pain never lessens but time teaches us to live with it, we have to.

  28. Mattsmum says:

    My handsome 22 year old son took his own life on 29th July 2016.I too have guilt that I didn’t do enough to help him.Having read all your helpful posts,I see that I would have done ANYTHING to save him if I had known.I have cried so many tears I never thought was possible.I stood in the middle if a field and let out an enormous scream that had been stuck in the pit of my stomach.My life feels so empty which feels awful to say because I have a daughter too.I feel there is so much pressure on her to stay safe.Life for us has to carry on,I don’t know how I dare say that,but we all know we have to carry on.I am sorry for all of your losses because I really do feel your pain.

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