Red Chrysanthemum buds getting ready to bloom with Pink Seedem in the Background, My Forever Son, Guilt in 3 Questions, The Burden of Grief: Navigating Guilt in Grief After the Loss of a Child to Suicide
Red Chrysanthemums and Pink Seedem, My Forever Son

The Burden of Grief: Navigating Guilt After the Loss of a Child to Suicide

Guilt is the one negative emotion that seems to be universal to all survivors of suicide, and overcoming it is perhaps our greatest obstacle on the path to healing. Guilt is your worst enemy, because it is a false accusation.

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.

American Association of Suicidology
Jeffrey Jackson, Copies in .pdf format can be downloaded from the internet, free of charge, at,

Lots of red and brown leaves scattered across a brick sidewalk, My Forever Son, The Burden of Grief: Navigating Guilt in Grief After the Loss of a Child to Suicide
Scattered Red Dogwood Leaves on Bricks, My Forever Son

Why Do We Blame Ourselves?

According to Jeffrey Jackson of the American Association of Suicidology, “psychiatrists theorize that human nature subconciously resists so strongly the idea that we cannot control all the events of our lives that we would rather fault ourselves for a tragic occurrence than accept our inability to prevent it.”

And blame typically belongs just to the one believing that he or she could have saved their loved one from suicide. I know that as a mother, I have always felt responsible for my son. When Dylan died by suicide in June of 2012, he still lived at home. He still seemed very much “my kid.” In truth, though, he will always be 19 years old to me, always “my kid,” always my beloved son who didn’t seem really grown up yet.

Blame is a “Solo Trip”

One of the most unusual aspects of survivor guilt is that it is usually a solo trip—each survivor tends to blame primarily themselves. Try asking another person who is also mourning your lost loved one about any guilt feelings that are haunting them. Chances are you will find that each per-
son—no matter how close or removed they were from the suicide victim—willingly takes the lion’s share of blame on themselves.

Jeffrey Jackson, American Association of Suicidology

What More Could I Have Done?

“What’s Your Grief” is one of the best blogs out there about all things related to grief. The excerpt below is from the blog post, “Grieving After a Suicide Death” by Eleanor Haley.

It is not uncommon for themes of personal blame to arise, as the person questions their role in their loved one’s suicide and what they could have done to prevent their death. Unfortunately, the bereaved may vastly overestimate their role and others’ role[s] (i.e., what family and friends did or didn’t do).

Whether rational or not, grieving family and friends may struggle with distressing thoughts like:

  • I never really knew [them]
  • [They] didn’t feel comfortable confiding in me.
  • [They] were in intense pain.
  • I’m to blame. I should have done more to prevent [their] death.
  • They didn’t love me enough to live.
Grieving After a Suicide Death, Eleanor Haley
Understanding Grief / What’s Your Grief?

What Did I Miss?

What if? Why didn’t I? What did I miss? (Read Coping with Guilt After Losing a Child to Suicide: Strategies and Support). Why didn’t I see the signs? How could I not have known this was coming? If only. . . .

It’s taken me all of these past 11 years since my son’s suicide to recognize and believe I wasn’t responsible for his death. Suicide seems like a choice. One with options, as in “opt out” if only the right person intervenes. One with choices as in “now that I think about it, I’ve decided I won’t take my life.” But suicide is not a choice.

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 self-recriminations.


A black wrought-iron chair on a brick porch, sitting empty except for a few red leaves scattered across it, My Forever Son, The Burden of Grief: Navigating Guilt After the Loss of a Child to Suicide
Always the Empty Chair, My Forever Son

Where Did I Go Wrong? A Poem About Guilt in Grief After Losing a Child to Suicide

That All of Love Could Sweep Time Back: A Poem of Guilt in Grief

I write poems about the difficult emotions that come after a suicide loss, and for me especially, the suicide of my son. The poem below, “That All of Love Could Sweep Time Back,” is a poem of regret and guilt in grief. (Read more about the “That All of Love Could Sweep Time Back)

But “That All of Love Could Sweep Time Back” is also a poem about letting go of guilt in grief and acknowledging my limitations. I couldn’t possibly have seen and known everything about what was going on in my son’s life.

But parents need to remind themselves 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.

Jeffrey Jackson, SoS-A Handbook for Suicide Survivors, AAOS
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
Find Hope Here: Poems About Losing a Child to Suicide

Scattered brown leaves along a brick sidewalk with green junipers on one side and yellow-green spirea on the other side, My Forever Son, The Burden of Grief: Navigating Guilt After the Loss of a Child to Suicide
Scattered Leaves Along a Brick Sidewalk, My Forever Son

You Are Not Alone: Connect to Support

The American Association of Suicidology
(202) 237-2280

The American Foundation for Suicide Preventio
(888) 333-AFSP (2377)

Compassionate Friends
(877) 969-0010

Living with Loss, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Living with Suicide Loss Video Series

Learn the Facts About Suicide, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Parents of Suicides, and Friends and Families of Suicides, Online community (PoS and FFoS) for Suicide Support

Where Are You in Your Grief?

Three Questions to think About when you think about Guilt

I belong to an online support group for Parents of Suicides (read more about parents of suicides) that posts questions each day that parents can choose to respond to if they wish. The questions spur thinking out loud and a chance to be heard by other parents who have lost their child to suicide. The questions below were in a daily email, and my answers to the questions follow below.

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.

Red Ground Roses in Weeping Cherry Tree

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.

Photo of 2 red rose buds and a red about to bloom
Red Rose Buds, My Forever Son
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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