Sunday, June 30, 2013

"You Did All You Could"

No, I did not do all I could to help my child and prevent this catastrophe. I thought about this a lot in the early weeks. People tried to reassure me without even knowing what I did or did not do. Of course, they were trying to make me feel better. The rabbi’s eulogy urged us mourners, if we must think about the “what if”s," to go there as little as possible. But especially in the first couple months, and still sometimes now, I need to dwell there; I need to grieve the enormity of my sense of guilt and opportunities missed. It is still too soon for me to set all that aside.

A doctor suggested making a list of what I did and what I didn’t do to try to help my son. Here is a short version for the last weeks of his life:

-          Helped him leave a stressful situation and come home
-          Gave him a list of psychiatrists; encouraged him often to call
-          Cooked for him; tried to interest him in cooking and doing simple things together
-          Gave him space, let him rest
-          Tried to talk with him about his feelings

When I made a similar list 6 weeks ago, it seemed paltry--way too little, way too late. The only way I can live with this list is to know that I can keep adding to it, going back in time to all the good things I did for and with my child.

Meanwhile, I feel compelled to take account of and list all I failed to do, to admit my helplessness. My confession to N and the world. As my husband says, “It was so hard to know how to help him.”

-          Ask him if he was feeling suicidal
-          Recognize warning signs like social isolation, talking like this was the end, etc.
-          Recognize that he was incapable of making those calls to psychiatrists
-          Bring help to him if he wouldn’t get help (professionals we know)
-      Bring friends to him if he wouldn't call friends
-          Read up on major depression to see how it can be a terminal disease
-          Hang out with him just to be together, whether he wanted it or not
-          Hug him every day, tell him I love him, tell him it gets better

What did I fail to do, to model or instill, years ago that left N so unprepared for this crisis? I can't face that list yet.

My therapist says, “You did the best you could with what you knew at the time.” I can accept that idea a little better than a blanket pass of “you did all you could.” Maybe what I can learn to eventually accept is my limitations. No parent does all we can; there are always constraints. The limitations of what we know and understand about the person and about the mind. The limitations of our personality, our relationship with the child and how we interact. The limitations of not wanting to rock the boat and provoke someone who was already fragile. The limitations of our imagination—living in denial, assuming the child would eventually follow the healing script we have for them, never imagining they would take their life. The inherent limitations of what any person--even a loving parent--can do for another.


  1. Limitations of our imagination, yes - I can not imagine your pain and grief. Thank you for writing this, it gives me a window in to a tiny portion of the path you are on.

  2. I have just found your blog. My son died in February 2014. What you have written is exactly what I have been feeling about our situation.

    1. I am so very sorry for the loss of your son. It's only been a few months and I imagine you are feeling the shock on top of the extreme pain. I'm glad if you can relate to the blog so at least you know you are not alone in this most horrible of grief journeys. Please feel free to contact me via e-mail (see About This Blog page) if you want to communicate privately. I welcome hearing from you and hope you are finding ways to take care of yourself.

      In shared sorrow,