After the loss of a child, a mother’s guilt is inevitable. There may be things she wishes she had done. There may also be things she wishes she hadn’t done. She may have made serious mistakes that carried grave consequences. She likely feels guilty. If you feel guilt, too, you know what I mean.
In the weeks and months after losing her child, a mother often struggles to be patient with herself. She struggles to forgive herself. She experiences the emotional torture of never knowing if her actions could have changed anything. The uncertainty haunts her as she tries to figure out how to go on living without her child.
It seems unfair that the pain of her loss is amplified by feelings of guilt. She feels alone, imprisoned by grief and doesn’t know where to turn. I feel for her because I was her.
As mother’s, we love our children and we do our best to keep them safe.
We feel a primal obligation and a fierce sense of responsibility to keep them healthy,
to keep them safe, to keep them alive. We are evolutionarily wired to
protect them to continue as a species.
So, when our child’s health fails, or they are hurt, or they die, we are immensely affected. Intense pain washes over us and sends us spinning out of control as we try to make sense of what has happened. We hold our stomachs, grip our chest and drop to our knees because of the intensity of our pain. We feel as though we have failed as parents in protecting our child. We failed and we feel guilty.
It’s not uncommon to think of the five stages of grief as a linear series of emotions we have to get through to grieve successfully. The first four, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression are better thought of as fluid feelings that are part of a much larger set of emotions that come and go as they please, like waves that torment us with their unpredictability. But what about the fifth stage of grief? Acceptance. Acceptance means coming to terms with what has happened and accepting the loss as part of our new reality that we learn to adapt to. To find true acceptance, we must learn how to move past failure and release our guilt.
So how do we release guilt? We start with forgiveness. Forgiveness for our actions and inactions. Forgiveness for the actions of others. And, forgiveness for what did and didn’t happen.
Next, we explore why we feel guilty and what makes us feel guilty. We may feel guilty because we believe in our hearts that we have failed. We may feel guilty because we are still here and our child is not. We may also feel guilty because we hold ourselves to extremely lofty standards. We may feel guilty and not understand why. So, what do we do?
First, we need to remind ourselves that feeling guilty is a natural part of the grief process. This is particularly true when we are grieving our children. Next, we need to ask ourselves the following questions.
- Can we accept our feelings of guilt as natural?
- Can we accept that we may not be perfect?
- Can we accept that we may have failed and still be okay?
- Can we tell ourselves that we did the best we could with the situation we were given?
THIS ACCEPTANCE is the very path we need to release our guilt.
Let’s begin by forgiving ourselves for being less than perfect. Let’s begin by forgiving ourselves for our failure in each moment. We can practice forgiving ourselves each time we are reminded of failure. We can practice being gentle with ourselves one moment at a time. We can practice accepting ourselves as imperfect.
Forgiving ourselves is a practice. Releasing guilt is a practice. It is a practice where we can begin to find some safety and certainty. We can actively choose to participate in this practice each time we are reminded of our guilt. We can acknowledge our guilt as a natural response to grief. We can begin to forgive ourselves for all the things we should have done. We can forgive ourselves for the things we didn’t do.
It takes time but this level of acceptance is possible. There is hope as the pain of our loss begins to lessen to a dull ache to make room for something new.
And, as we practice forgiveness, we learn more about ourselves. And as we learn, we grow. We begin to see ourselves in a new future in a new reality. We grieve. We feel guilty. We can even find acceptance that our child is forever gone.
In time, as we forgive ourselves, release guilt and find acceptance, we begin to look for ways to move forward with our lives as they are, not as we want them to be. We heal and are healed.
With Love and Prayers,