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!
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.
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.
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.