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

 

 

To My Fellow Grievers-Love Brave

I was unprepared for the many traveling companions grief brought with it.  I knew to expect sadness and despairbut what about anxiety and guilt?

I had no idea how large a space guilt would soon occupy in my thoughts and heart-guilt over what I did or didn’t do when Dominic was still with us, guilt over what I do or don’t do now.

I can do nothing to change what happened in years past.  

There is no magic time machine that will allow me to go back and linger long over his jokes or cling harder when he hugged me.

But I can choose to approach today in a way that frees me of foolish guilt and unnecessary regrets.

I can’t do everything but I can do something.

I can love big and brave and refuse to waste the days I have with the people that mean the most to me.

do what you can with what you have where you are

No Redshirts Here

If you are a Star Trek fan, you get the reference.  In most episodes involving fear of mortal danger, the landing team included several main characters and one or two “redshirts”.  Those were the expendable crewmen (or women)–the ones you knew would take the fatal hit and fade into the story background.  There might be a moment when Captain Kirk or Spock or Dr. McCoy were threatened, but in your heart you just knew that they would be safe because, after all, there’s next week’s episode.

In some ways, this mentality crept into my life.  The people I love are too important, too central to my life to die.  Sure, eventually, we all leave this earth. But not today, not without warning.

And not in the middle of the story.

I resisted the truth that “life is but a vapor”.  I acknowledged it in my head but ignored it in my heart.

I’m here to tell you–life is a vapor…it can be gone as quickly as the morning mist and there is no getting it back.

I console myself that Dominic knew I loved him.  Because I told him so–in person, on the phone and in messages.  I couldn’t save him from death, but am spared at least that one regret.  

If you knew that today would be the last day you would be with someone, what would you do differently?  What would you say? What would you choose not to say?

We never know.  Even anticipated deaths are often unexpected.  Age and illness seem like creeping things until the moment they strike the final blow.

There are no red shirts in real life.  No telltale symbol to clue us in to who will be here tomorrow and who will enter eternity today. Babies aren’t born with expiration dates.

Choose to honor the ones that are important to you.

Leave in love.  Part in peace.

A Life in Scraps

IMG_2605

Just a few months before Dominic was killed, this hoarding homeschool mama decided that it was time to finally give up some of the thousands of pages of handwritten, color-crayoned papers stacked in the attic, the storage building and floating in corners and crevices throughout the house.

Four children and twenty-two years of teaching them at home had produced a mountain of memories.  I began to sort through the ones I deemed “most important to keep” and “everything else”.  

Several loads were taken to the dump and tossed unceremoniously onto the trash pile.

It felt like freedom.

Now it feels like regret and longing.

Because what I have left of the physical presence of my son is represented in the scraps I have kept-the clothes, the notes, the scribbled comments in the margins of his notebooks and college texts.

I hear his voice in the tweets– his wit and wisdom, cynicism and societal critique.

Sometimes I hold them and think of the boy,the teen,the man who wrote them.

Sometimes I hurry past because thinking of who he was and feeling the absence of who he would be right now is too great to bear.

I wish he had left more voice mails-

I don’t erase them anymore.