Struggling with Guilt in Suicide Grief
Parents of children who die by suicide often battle an
added type of guilt. Even if they do not blame themselves
for not directly intervening in the suicidal act, they often feel
guilt over some perceived mistake in raising their children.
“Where did I go wrong?,” “I pushed them too hard.” and
“If we hadn’t gotten divorced…” are just a few on the list of
But parents need to remind themselvesJeffrey Jackson, SOS Handbook, A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide, American Association of Suicidology
that, while they have great influence over their children’s
lives, they do not personally create every aspect of their chil-
dren’s being, as a sculptor carves a statue. From their earliest
years, children are shaped by an assortment of outside influ-
ences beyond the control of parents. Even children and
teenagers have to bear responsibility for their actions.
When a loved one dies by suicide, emotions can overwhelm you. Your grief might be heart wrenching. At the same time, you might be consumed by guilt — wondering if you could have done something to prevent your loved one’s death. . . .remember that you don’t have to go through it alone.Mayo Clinic Staff
And if you are the parent of a child who died by suicide, you are not alone in struggling with guilt.
Brace for Powerful Emotions
Nothing can prepare you for what happens when your child dies by suicide. It is truly living out a nightmare from which you cannot awaken. Indeed, “grief is an extraordinarily powerful constellation of emotions that can initiate a chain reaction of biochemical events in the body” (Understanding a Broken Heart – The Physiologyy of Grief).
Losing a child to suicide triggers intense emotions:
- Shock. Disbelief and emotional numbness might set in. You might think that your [child’s] suicide couldn’t possibly be real.
- Anger. You might be angry with your [son or daughter] for abandoning you or leaving you with a legacy of grief — or angry with yourself or others for missing clues about suicidal intentions.
- Guilt. You might replay “what if” and “if only” scenarios in your mind, blaming yourself for your [child’s] death.
- Despair. You might be gripped by sadness, loneliness or helplessness. You might have a physical collapse or even consider suicide yourself.
- Confusion. Many people try to make some sense out of the death, or try to understand why their [child] took his or her life. But [with the suicide of your daughter or son], you’ll likely always have some unanswered questions.
- Feelings of rejection. You might wonder why your relationship wasn’t enough to keep your [child] from dying by suicide.
You might continue to experience intense reactions during the weeks and months after your [child’s] suicide — including nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, social withdrawal and loss of interest in usual activities — especially if you witnessed or discovered the suicide.Mayo Clinic Staff
“If Only I Had”-A True Tale of Two Mothers
[This story helps me. Perhaps it will help you, too.]
If Only I Had. . .
There were two young women who died by suicide. both about the same age, both after a years-long battle with depression. Each had made several suicide attempts. They would refuse professional help and stop taking their medication just when it seemed to begin helping.
Fearing for her life, the first woman’s mother had her committed – against her wishes—to a psychiatric clinic for treatment. While there, despite being on “suicide watch,” the young girl asphyxiated herself with her bed sheets.
The second woman’s mother constantly urged her daughter to seek professional help. However, fearing that she would worsen her daughter’s depression, she refused to force her into any kind of institutionalized care. One day, she killed herself with an overdose of medication.
Afterwards, both mothers blamed themselves for not preventing their daughter’s suicides. The irony is that each blamed themselves for not doing exactly what the other one did.
The first mother felt that if she hadn’t isolated her daughter in that institution, she wouldn’t have lost her. The second was sure that if she only had committed her daughter, she would’ve been saved.