Friday, February 26, 2016

Letter to a Mourning Mom Struggling with Self-Blame

Dear Mourning Mom @ 10 months:

I know you. I was you in the first year or two, and sometimes still in bursts of remorse today.  I hear your cries of all you should-have, could-have done for your lost child. This is how we feel as survivors, especially parent survivors. We think we failed our child; we need to shout out our unworthiness, beat our breasts. Instinctively, we reject assurances that we did everything we could because, of course, there’s always more that could have been done. Even when people add “given what you knew at the time,” we just can’t accept that we were unable to save our child. That the momentum of our mothering only goes so far with our kids. And that, unlike most parents, we don’t get another chance. 

Having missed that chance, we cling desperately to remorse as a last parental act. It keeps us connected to our dead child. It shows our love and loyalty and belated understanding of what they needed and what we failed to provide. It’s a desperate plea for their forgiveness. Except that now, only we can forgive ourselves. And that will be a long time coming. 

You have a total right to feel what you’re feeling, on your own timetable. By all means (literally), let it out! At the same time, please feed your battered soul. Find antidotes to the bitterness that corrodes your spirit. Treat yourself with the same gentle love you'd give a dear friend in your position. Make a list of all the good things you did for and with your child over the years. Realize that no one is a perfect parent; no one is all seeing or all powerful.

“Just as no one can erase the grief that you feel right now, there were limits to what anyone could have done to fix your loved one’s pain,” according to Drs. Jack Jordan and Bob Baugher.  “Living through the suicide of a loved one confronts all survivors with a profound sense of their own limitations.” You may feel like putting yourself on trial for failing your loved one, they say, but at least let a friend or therapist ensure that it’s a fair trial that reviews all the evidence.

I know you can’t fully absorb what I’m saying right now. Even if you can't take it to heart, please tuck it away in the back of your mind to ease some future moment, along with these wise words from Dr. Stacey Freedenthal :
Feelings of self-blame can distract you from grieving and, in the process, from healing. Think of self-blame as an itchy blanket thrown over your grief. When you focus on the blanket, you do not see or feel the naked grief that lies beneath. Remember, condemning yourself can build some illusion of control. What lies beneath your self-blame are the terrible facts that you cannot control: Suicidal forces overtook your loved one. You have suffered an unfathomable loss. You cannot turn back time, do it over, do it differently. Each of these is a loss. Mourning these losses is the essence of grief. Your grief deserves your compassion.”  


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