The child you loved more than anything in the whole world has died, and with that death, came an unshakeable sense of guilt that if you had just done something differently, your child could still be alive.
We torment ourselves with the thoughts . . . If I had only done this . . . If I hadn’t said that . . . If I had just noticed . . . If I had followed that hunch instead of ignoring it . . . maybe my child wouldn’t have died.
As parents, we are tasked to protect our children and do everything in our power to protect them, to nourish them, to help them thrive, and, at a most basic level, keep them alive. We hear it muttered by parents everywhere after a tough day with the kids . . . “Well, at least they’re still alive.”
And the knife that rests in our bleeding and broken bereaved heart twists to intensify the pain.
Whether there was actually some oversight or mistake that led to the death, or whether we have invented our own scenarios where we could have done something differently to change the outcome, we feel we failed them. We torment ourselves relentlessly with thoughts of what we could have or should have done to save them.
I hear it from the mama who accidentally fell asleep while nursing her baby and awoke to find him unresponsive in her arms . . . and from the mama who looked away while her child played to find he had fallen in the water . . . and the mama who exchanged biting words with her child just before she took her own life . . . and the one who walked with her child through cancer treatments and wonders if it would have been different if she had just chosen a different treatment plan . . . and the one who didn’t see her toddler standing behind the vehicle as she backed out of the driveway. . . and I hear it in my own head as the mama who wonders if it would have been different if she had just followed the hunch to go to get her little boy.
I see you, Mama. And I see your pain.
And as much as you wish you could have done something different, the truth is, as humans, the only thing we can ever do is the best we can with what we have at the moment. And in that last moment, you were doing the best you could with the information you had.
If you had known how this would end, you would have done everything in your power to change the outcome. You would have moved mountains, traveled across the globe, spent every last penny, sacrificed everything, and even given your own life so your child could have kept theirs. If there was anything under the sun that you could have possibly known or done to protect the life of your child, you would have done it without a second thought.
Let the certainty that you would have given everything to change the outcome be a reservoir of peace for you as you grieve this enormous loss in a world that is not yours to predict or control.
Far above the task of protecting your child, the truest job of a parent is to love your child.
And that is a job you did well. As parents, we may not always know how to best execute our love for them, but that love runs true and deep as the root of every decision we make for them.
While the unwelcome guest of guilt will probably still make himself comfortable inside your grieving heart, when he barges in and starts ransacking your thoughts, sit down beside him and tell him how much you loved that child of yours. Tell him what you would have sacrificed if there had been any way for you to know what was coming next or known how to prevent it. And while he may not go away, chances are good that he will be hushed by the powerful witness of your love.
And then, just as you would do for someone you love, forgive yourself for what you could not know or change, grant yourself some grace and mercy—knowing none of us can escape the limitations that come with being human, and let your grieving heart rest in the certainty of your love.