As a working mom, I think I felt some type of guilt almost every day. I never felt like I was doing enough. I would feel guilty about not spending enough time with my kids, missing school parties, or not being able to volunteer as much as some other moms. In addition to the ‘I am not a good enough mom’ guilt, I also felt, ‘I am not a good enough doctor’ guilt when I would have to explain to a family that I would not be able to see them for an appointment on a Tuesday, because I worked a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule.
I know that I am not alone in feeling these types of guilt. However, nothing could have prepared me for the guilt that I experienced after losing my son, Andy. Suddenly, I was unable to do the one thing that parents need to do above all others – protect their children, and raise them to adulthood. My previous guilty feelings seemed trivial. As a mother, I felt like a complete failure and the guilt was overwhelming.
People told me again and again that it was not my fault and that I should not feel guilty. I guess a part of my brain knew that my guilt was not rational, but that did not change my feelings one tiny bit. The guilt was still there and other people’s words were not going to magically make that guilt disappear.
Recently, I have had many people reach out, emailing me about their feelings of guilt. So often, it comes in the form of numerous questions. ‘Why didn’t I see how hopeless he was feeling?’ ‘Why didn’t I notice the signs of illness earlier?’ ‘Why didn’t I push the doctors harder?’ ‘Why didn’t I confront her sooner about the drug use?’ All of these questions fall back to one thing – guilt, but is there a way to get past it?
Today, Gwen and I talk about this important topic and how eventually, we can conquer these feelings of guilt that complicate our grief. We need to face our guilt head on and not ignore it. This is not easy and takes a lot of work, but it can be done. As Gwen says, “We need to feel it to heal it!”
Dear Andy’s mom,
I like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for having Gwen speaking about guilt and grief. I’ve been on this journey twice. In 2004 we lost our middle son Victor. Eleven years after, in 2015, Arturo, our oldest son. Guilt is very present in my grief. I immediately connected with the whole conversation and approach to feelings of guilt. I have not been in therapy for a while. Your podcast made me feel good.
One day, I would love to share my story with you.
I’m sorry about Andy’s death. He seems like an amazing kid and he was blessed with having you two as parents. His joy in Heaven is manifested in your daily life and work.
I’d love to hear your story whenever you are ready. I am so glad that you found the episode helpful! I know that I certainly did. I keep reminding myself of little things I learned every day. One big one – ‘guilt doesn’t have to be rational to be real.’ It reminds me to acknowledge my very real feelings, but then to remind myself that it is not truly rational. I think it helps me keep guilt in its place just a little bit better.