Nagging Guilt in Child Loss

I should have known.  I should have been there.  I should have called, texted, spoken one more warning or given one more hug.

Should.  Should?  Should!

wistful woman looking out wet window

I have yet to speak to a bereaved parent who does not harbor guilt of some kind over the death of his or her child.

Not one.

Why didn’t I know?  What did I miss? Why didn’t I say “I love you” one more time?

Hindsight being 20/20 means that there are always threads a heart can pull to guide it back to some moment when it should have been obvious what was about to happen.

reaching hand in grief

We comb through days, months or years of evidence like a crime novel detective, determined to find the clue that unravels all the mystery surrounding our child’s death.

Guilt is a relentless hound nipping at tired heels.

I know there are circumstances where a parent may well be responsible in some measure for the death of his or her child.  If that’s you, then I hope you have a good counselor to help you work through all those feelings.  It will take a lot of time and a lot of effort, but it can be done.

But for many of us, the guilt is phantom pain. It has no basis in reality.  There was nothing we did or didn’t do that contributed to our child leaving this world.  Nothing we could have done to prevent it.  No way we could have known it was going to happen.

Running from guilt can keep a heart from doing the work grief requires.  It can build barriers between us and the people that can help us most.  It can lead our minds down a dark path into a bottomless pit.

Guilt is a thief and a liar.

Guilt will steal what I have left if I’m not very careful.

When my heart is overwhelmed by the “what ifs” and “shoulds” and “should-have-knowns”, I scream, “Shut Up!”.

I force my thoughts to turn instead to the things I know for sure:

  • Dominic was (is!) loved.
  • He was (still is!) a beautiful, thoughtful and capable soul.
  • His death was an accident and nothing I could have done would have prevented it.
  • He is safe, right now, in the arms of Jesus.
  • This separation is temporary.

I still have work to do and people to love and I can’t do either if I’m obsessed with the past.

It’s a costly act of will to stop the guilt soundtrack playing in my head.  

But it’s worth it. 

heart leaf torn



Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

16 thoughts on “Nagging Guilt in Child Loss”

  1. This has been your most helpful post for me.
    My son died 2 months ago of cancer, and throughout his battle I grieved that I didn’t make different decisions early in the process (before we knew it was cancer.) Later on there was nothing I could do to relieve his suffering.
    I have not slept well for almost 2 years as I relive every moment from his diagnosis on.
    No one else feels this way
    (and truthfully we all know that God plans the length of our lives. My son himself always assured me that,)
    but it is so helpful to know others also suffer with guilt.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The guilt creeps up on you. We go along fine for awhile and then it creeps in. I try to pray to God harder during these moments. Some are harder than others but I think with faith you can keep it at bay.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think losing a child due to substance abuse or suicide is different in that we did/do have effects on our children’s mental health and ability to be resilient in life. We are NOT responsible for our children’s choices, but are part of the background music that plays in their minds. It is hard to tease out what is ours to take responsibility for, and what is theirs…another difficult layer to losing them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely agree Barbara! There are many circumstances where a parent may have some responsibility even if he or she ultimately had no control. Both those situations are complex.

      My son died in an accident that was a result of foolish choices so my situation is different. When I write, I am usually trying to target a narrow bit of our overall experience. I never want to imply it’s all-inclusive.

      I am so very sorry for your pain and your loss. Thank you for adding another, important perspective, through your voice. ❤


  4. It’s such a comfort to remember that the number of days were ordained by our Sovereign Lord for our children before they took their first breath. Nothing we say or do (or neglect to do) can affect this appointed moment. If God is who He says He is, then He could have intervened and overruled our child’s death. But He doesn’t always. And that’s where believing and trusting in His sovereignty brings peace and hope. What appeared to be an accident through human eyes on April 10, 1991, was not an “Oops!” for our Sovereign Creator.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wrote in our son’s memorial program that his leaving was an “accident” from our perspective but not from God’s. That what caught us off-guard did not surprise His Creator. ❤


  5. No matter how much we try to do what is right, the result may be something that we could neither foresee or want. And that may be grounds for regret, sometimes very great regret, but not for everlasting guilt.
    In those moments of doubt and sorrow, I pray for God’s mercy, and hope to receive it.

    Liked by 2 people

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