Purple Flower After Rain Against Brick Wall
Purple Flower After the Rain, My Forever Son

Self-Blame and Guilt: I Couldn’t Save My Son

I can’t stop thinking about how much he suffered—and my own inability to save him.

Lori Gottlieb, “I Blame Myself for My Son’s Death,” The Atlantic, September 7, 2020

It’s been nearly 10 years since I lost my only son to suicide. Had someone suggested in my first year of grief that I could “heal” from the heavy, leaden weight of guilt, I would not have believed them. My world that first year was upside down and spinning. Engulfed by grief, I struggled to make sense of what I know now will never make sense. Guilt swept in, and my heart wept for my son. I had somehow let him down. Not been there for him. Not kept him safe and out of harm’s way.

Nearly a decade later, there are still some days I carry the heaviness of guilt of losing my only child. Below are passages and stories that have helped me cope with grief. Perhaps they will help you too.

So What Can You Do to Move Forward?

“A Record of Your Love”

So what can you do to move forward? Instead of imprisoning yourself in a cell of self-recrimination, you can start by opening a space for all that you did give your son. You might want to make a list of things you did to try to help over the course of decades, even if you didn’t feel that they were helpful. In other words, make a list with no “but”s or caveats such as I could have used different words in that conversation or I could have put him in a different school or I could have chosen a different treatment provider or rehab or I could have flown to see him when he called and asked me to come that time I was working or what have you. I want you to have a record of your love.

Lori Gottlieb, “I Blame Myself for My Son’s Death,” The Atlantic, September 7, 2020
2 Kitten Siblings Curled Up together on warm concrete.
Two Kitten Siblings in a Warm Hug, My Forever Son

“Painful New Reality”

“More than 10 years have passed since our eldest son died by suicide. As I reflect on the first year after his death, I remember how it felt impossible to accept the painful new reality.

For years afterward, my husband and I tried to come to terms with our excruciating loss and all that led to our son’s final, desperate act. Mired in grief and guilt, we agonized over the now-obvious warning signs: his social angst and anxiety through adolescence, the inner demons that continued to plague him in college, the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

My inability to heal him, to make him feel safe and whole — what feels like my failure to help him in any “real,” significant way — has haunted me. After all, isn’t a mother’s primary job to make sure her young survive?

The path to healing from this loss has not been straightforward. It has required honest introspection, radical acceptance, true forgiveness and unrelenting strength.

Susan Wight, NAMI, National Alliance for Mental Illness
Large striped male cat named Daddy Cat in repose and facing camera. Lots of greenery abounds as Daddy Cat in lying in the rose garden. My Forever Son
Daddy Cat in Repose, My Forever Son

Remembering the Love

Remembering My Son and All His Complexities
I will always think of our son as a shooting star that burned out early. His future seemed so bright and full of promise, yet it all dimmed too quickly. Smart and creative, he was an outsider who couldn’t find his place at the table the way others his age did. He remained at the edge of the crowd, longing to feel accepted, but unsure of where to start.

Susan Wight, NAMI

Finding a Way Forward with Forgiveness

Our family was thrown into a pit of despair by this loss. As you might expect, climbing our way out has taken effort and time. Experts call this recovery process “grief work,” for it feels like hard labor, both physically and emotionally.

There is no hurrying through the pain, guilt, confusion and desperation. My husband and I struggled with sadness and guilt over losing our son and not being able to get him the support he needed. However, with time, we were able to recognize the ways we had showed up for him.

Another stage of the healing process required admitting and coming to terms with our feelings of anger toward our child for what he did. Through honest discussion, we discovered that we didn’t see our son as just the victim of a violent act, but the perpetrator who ultimately murdered someone we loved. We felt that head not only robbed himself of his future, but also robbed his family of a future with him in it. However, as we learned to forgive ourselves for his death, we learned to accept and forgive him, too.

Susan Wight, NAMI, September 2021, “Healing After My Son’s Suicide”

Accepting Our Scars and Celebrating our Strength

…A core piece of my life that was once there is missing — yet sometimes I can still see, feel and hear my son like he’s a phantom limb.

Susan Wight, NAMI, September 2021, “Healing After My Son’s Suicide”

Orange Canna Lily in Summer Bloom, Water Pond, My Forever Son
Orange Canna Lily in Summer Bloom, Water Pond, My Forever Son

What lies beneath your self-blame are the terrible facts that you cannot control: Suicidal forces overtook your loved one. You have suffered an unfathomable loss. You cannot turn back time, do it over, do it differently. Each of these is a loss. Mourning these losses is the essence of grief. Your grief deserves your compassion.”

Susan Auerbach,”Tips from Survivors: To a Mom Who Blames Herself,” I’ll Write Your Name on Every Beach: A Mother’s Quest for Comfort, Courage and Clarity After Suicide Loss

Green Shade Hosta in Summer, My Forever Son
Green Shade Hosta in Summer, My Forever Son

Self-Blame and Guilt: I Couldn’t Keep My Son Safe

What Else Can I Do?

…you can join a support group for parents whose adult children have died from an overdose—intentional or otherwise—so you can meet others who have experienced feelings of self-blame and regret similar to yours. In this group, you’ll find a whole community of people who understand that you have been fundamentally changed by your experience of having been your son’s parent, and they will do for you what you did so beautifully for your son: They will bear witness to your pain, even if they can’t take it away.

Lori Gottlieb, “I Blame Myself for My Son’s Death,” The Atlantic, September 7, 2020

It’s the part of the story that might be even more painful to contemplate than your enduring self-blame—the part about your enduring love.

What I hear in your letter is a deep, ferocious, and complicated love for your son. And it’s in this love—more than in the blame—that your grief resides.

— Lori Gottlieb, “I Blame Myself for My Son’s Death,” The Atlantic, September 7, 2020

Recent Posts

A Poem About Losing My Child: Sorrow Buried in Love

A Poem About Losing My Child: Sorrow Buried in Love Sorrow Buried in Love So swish to sway to sweet lullaby, Baby will fall in dark of the night. Rocking cradle to grave turning truth upside down: Parents die first leaving children behind. In a world topsy-turvy that cannot make sense, Sacred trust shines the…

Read More

Holiday Grief Series: “Helping Yourself Heal During the Holiday Season”

“Helping Yourself Heal During the Holiday Season” By Alan Wolfelt The suggestions below offer practical tips for coping with grief during the holidays. Alan D. Wolfelt, the author of these suggestions, writes prolifically about all aspects of grief. He offers practical suggestions for handling grief (including for teens and kids), and he addresses grief in…

Read More

Living in the Glare of My Son’s Suicide

Living in the Glare Listen to Your Narrative It isn’t wrong, this narrative of yours. Isn’t something to be fixed. Adjusted. Changed. Rewritten. God knows you’d rewrite your narrative if you could. Consider the whole thing a tumultuous, torrid first draft. A rough sketch ill-constructed. The consequence lacking intention. Not giving words, shapes, ideas, even…

Read More

“Bruised and Wounded: Understanding Suicide”

All death unsettles us, but suicide… brings with it an ache, a chaos, a darkness, and a stigma that has to be experienced to be believed.Ronald Rolheiser Struggling to Understand Suicide Ronald Rolheiser writes a great deal about the suicide. He lends an understanding and spiritual perspective to suicide, and in so doing, removes much…

Read More


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Help, Hope, Healing After Suicide Loss: Support, Books, Resources

If You’ve Lost a Child to Suicide, These Resources May Be Helpful Few things can so devastate us as the suicide of a loved one, especially of one’s own child. Fr Ron Rolheiser Seven Resources for Support If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. (Or 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).…

A Poem of Love, Loss, and Healing: Rain Comes to Heal Us All

A Healing Poem of Love, Loss, and Forgiveness: Rain Comes to Heal Us All Rain Comes to Heal Us All Rain comes to heal us all, Falling tears from a sky of love, Remembering even when earth forgets To nurture all that we cannot forgive, Bringing love remembered to restore Even flowers that forget how…

Mr. Lincoln tea hybrid red rose in full bloom in June photographclose up

Get new posts delivered to your inbox.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s