In 12-step recovery programs, there is something called the “3-C’s”. We did not cause it. We cannot control it. We cannot cure it.
As a parent who has lost a child, there can be guilt and remorse over thinking we did not do enough. We believe if we only did X, Y or Z that our child would still be alive. While coming from a place of love, these ideas are unrealistic. Regardless of what you did or did not do, you did not cause their death.
Last week, I spent some time getting to know a new client. One of the things she shared with me was her tremendous guilt of the loss of her child. Taking on the guilt and responsibility of child loss is common. You think, as a parent, you have one job to do and that is keep your child safe. While parents easily take on guilt, so many times it is them being too hard on themselves. Carrying guilt can stop healthy grieving and stop forward momentum of healing.
Here is a common way we can be way too hard on ourselves in loss.
“I didn’t say or do enough.” “ I could have prevented this from happening.”
Those who are left behind regret leaving something unsaid or undone. There is a full list of “shoulds”. I should have spent more time with them. I should have said I love you more often. I should have called one more time.
This type of thinking is called “tyranny of the shoulds”, in which people forget the things they did, instead replacing it with the things they did not do.
My son passed away on a Friday afternoon. I spoke to him on Tuesday morning.
I can revisit those days in between, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning and beat myself up for not calling or texting him. I could think, I could have stopped him. I should have been around for him more. I didn’t do enough.
When I reflect on what I did do, I know that I was there for him. On Tuesday, we had a great conversation. When I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, his response was that he just wanted my support. I told him of course and I ended our conversation as we always did by saying, I love you to the stars and back! He replied, “I love you to the stars and back times three”.
It is okay to give myself credit for the times I did talk to him, the times that I financially supported him, the times that I was with him when he was in need. He knows that I love him, to the stars and back.
Give yourself permission to remember all that you did for your loved one. Do not lose sight of what you were able to do. You did everything you could.