One of the traumas parents often face in the complex and tragic aftermath of losing a child to suicide, is the feeling of being a complete failure as a parent.
We are supposed to protect them. From the time they are born we sneak into their room at night to check they are still breathing, we put plastic protectors on sharp corners and locks on the kitchen cupboards. We sacrifice our own social lives to drop them off and pick them up rather than allowing them to travel home on their own, and when they are grown, we can’t sleep until we hear the key in the front door indicating they are home.
How often do you hear or read about parents feeling proud when their children achieve milestones such as exam results, University degrees, getting married having babies or getting a new job or a promotion? ‘We must have done something right’, they crow. ‘Oh, you must be so proud, their friends say’.
So where does this leave us? Did we fail? Didn’t we do our job properly? Is it our fault they are no longer here?
Of course, I can tell you – NO, we didn’t, it wasn’t your fault; but will you believe me?
A stark realisation hit me this morning, 7 years 6 months later; that it is completely natural and normal to feel some sense of guilt or failure when you lose your child to suicide. Just as you would if you turned your back for a moment when they were a toddler and they fell and hurt themselves.
Feeling responsibility and guilt if things don’t turn out well for your child is just ingrained into us when we become a parent. It has nothing to do with your child dying. If you didn’t feel something you wouldn’t be a loving parent.
I have come to accept that at times I will cry and look at Toby’s picture and say ‘Sorry, Toby, I let you down’. I accept that at times all I can remember are the times I shouted at him or we had an argument.
What I have learned though, is that at these times I can also choose to remember all the times I helped and supported him. I helped him stand up to the bullies at school, I fought with the school to get him proper help and support when he was struggling. When he left home I wrote him letters telling him not to worry and to be his own person and when he dropped out of University I didn’t berate him, I told him that his worth was not judged by exam results or degrees, I told him his worth was his brilliance, his sense of humour and his stubborn but caring nature. I sent him Toy Story figures and a sticker book when he was at University to cheer him up and most of all I always told him ‘I’ll always love you’.
I am proud of Toby; I am proud of the way he stubbornly reserved the right to be his own person and go his own way. I was the best parent I knew how to be, and everything I did, I did from a place of love, even if I look back and wish I had done some things differently. The guilt will always be there, after all I was, and still am, a parent.