How many times have the words “if only” echoed through your mind? Replaying events of your child’s death over and over again. Wondering all the if only’s you can. These questions and anxieties often translate into feelings of guilt, and like we didn’t do enough to save our child.
The definition on Cambridge dictionary for guilt is: a feeling of anxiety or unhappiness that you have done something immoral or wrong, such as causing harm to another person. With any loss, no matter how our child died we feel like there was something we could have done or should have done differently.
As a grieving mother who has felt guilt in my own grief, I wish I could tell you to just stop feeling guilty like everyone else does. I wish I could just wrap up the emotion and throw it away, because it’s not serving any of us. I wish it was so easy to ‘not feel guilty’. Even though I want to do that, I know that’s not how we work through our feelings.
I have talked to many mothers, and it seems that it comes up over and over at some point in their grief, they feel like it’s their fault their child died. I believe as mothers we feel responsible and that it is our job to protect and care for our children. It is our job- while they are living. But with death I’ve realized things are way out of our control. With death, everything is so final, and there is no turning back the clock. That is incredibly painful.
I want to walk you through my own struggles of feeling like I was not a good enough mom, and thinking if I was a better one, I could have saved Aria. The night Aria died, I heard her crying. I went to the bathroom, and waited a little bit to see if she would stop crying. She did. So I thought all was good and I went to bed. I did not check on her, and when I finally did in the late morning because she was sleeping so late she was gone. I’ve replayed that scenario in my head a thousand times. What could I have done differently that could have saved her? Was she dying when I heard her crying in the night? Was she suffering, and I just ignored her? This pain ate me up.
When discussing with my therapist these feelings and wondering what I could have done differently, he had me walk through the scenario again. He told me, “Imagine you hear Aria crying in the night, so you go in there and pick her up. You comfort her and rock her, then you put her back to bed. In the morning, you go in there and she is gone.” I don’t know why walking through this scenario was so powerful for me, but I realized that no matter what I would have done, in the morning it would have been the same result. In the morning, I would still have had a dead daughter.
A few other scenarios I can think of off the top of my head are these, the mother who feels like she did something wrong to trigger labor for her stillborn child, the mother who feels like she didn’t do enough to save her child from addiction, the mother who blames herself for letting her child go in that car that ended in an accident, the mother who feels like she should have known how sick her child really was. I could go on and on, as there are so many stories of ways we lose our children. There are so many scenarios, and with all of them we find ways to blame ourselves.
I’ve often thought that it’s not helpful to tell someone to just not feel guilty because they are not at fault. That doesn’t make the feelings of guilt go away. I believe it’s so important to process and allow space for these feelings, because honestly? The guilt will tear you apart! Allow yourself to work through what you are feeling. Talk through it, exercise through it, do art through it, or journal through it. Use whatever methods that work for you to help you process these emotions. The bottom line is- those feelings of guilt are real, but it doesn’t mean they are true.
My wish for you is that you find space to begin to let yourself let go of these feelings of guilt. Take the time you need, and don’t just try to shove them away. Maybe we need to work extra hard to let go of them, but they will not just go away without some sort of processing and grief work. There is nothing we can change after death or anything that could have been done differently- and guilt is not serving you in your life.
If you want to use a grief journal with prompts to help work through and process your emotions, I have a free grief journal you can download! Just fill out the form below and it will get sent to you <3