Guilt in Grief
That All of Love Could Sweep Time Back Should've, would've, could've, If I'd only come to see, That might I future forward live To see all eternity. That I might know when and where somehow, And here and now then see, To erase the dark and stay the day, To bring back you to me. If only and what if now child, And why couldn't I just see, To hold you close forever, Rewind time, just you and me. That darkness might not permeate My heart now and yours then, That all of love could sweep time back To bring back you again. ©Beth Brown, 2021
Where Did I Go Wrong?
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-A Handbook for Suicide Survivors, American Association of Suicidology
that, while they have great influence over their children’s
lives, they do not personally create every aspect of their children’s being, as a sculptor carves a statue. From their earliest
years, children are shaped by an assortment of outside influences
beyond the control of parents. Even children and
teenagers have to bear responsibility for their actions.
Question 1. Do you believe you have done anything wrong that caused the death of your son or daughter by suicide?
For the first time in 4 years (as of Saturday, June 25th, Dylan’s memorial date), I can answer this question “NO!!!!—only if adoring, loving, cherishing and sacrificing oh so much can kill.
NO!!!!—only if death is something I can control, only if I had failed in letting my son become the amazing, beautiful, and extraordinary young man he was and in the process, become independent in who he was.
NO!!!—only if I can control illness around the world, for all children everywhere; only if I can conjure up cures for all disease including illnesses that we cannot see: sadness, mental illness, addiction, depression, alcoholism, and the list goes on.
Question 2. Have you forgiven yourself for anything you believe you did or did not do wrong? If so, what?
Yes. I raised Dylan much of his life as a single mom. Society can blame single parents in harsh ways (hence the “stigma” of suicide). It’s helped to learn there are no guarantees in life. It’s also helped to be part of an international community of parents who have lost their child to suicide. I am not alone. In speaking with other bereaved parents, I see that while we come from all walks of life, we all share a deep love of our child. Heartache and questioning are universal: Guilt felt by a parent who loses a child to suicide does not abide by international borders.
Yes. Mental illness is illness, doctors don’t yet have answers, let alone “cures,” disease ebbs and flows across all borders—be they physical or mental illness. For a long time, I believed I made Dylan this way, that all my creativity and brilliance of a life lived in extremes, not by choice, but because of illness, destroyed him. But Dylan’s depression, fueled by a reckless coming-of-age youth, drove him to a despair over which I had no control.
Question 3. If you have not forgiven yourself, will you accept compassion even if you cannot forgive yourself?
Yes, and I think we must sit with one another in grief, rocking, holding, bearing up those who cannot even remember to breathe. From love comes love. From heart connection comes whatever healing might be possible here. From holding on to one another, we walk courageously together towards living in memory and honor–and with love–for our children.
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