It’s easy. Quite possibly the easiest thing to do.
We look for fault in tragedy because it’s easier for us to cast our emotions and heavy burdens upon someone or something specific. But, when there is no one or nothing responsible for something terrible happening, then we have no choice but to carry the weight ourselves. All of it.
When our babies are born, we instantly inherit this massive, overwhelming sense of love like never before. At the same time, we swiftly gain an ability to tap in to our parental protective instincts at any given moment. When we are then faced with a situation in which those instincts fail us, we question our capabilities as parents.
“God gave me this beautiful child and allowed me to become her mother. Why did I fall short of keeping her safe?”
“What did I do wrong?”
“What could I have done differently?”
“A mother is supposed to protect her baby at all costs. What kind of a mother am I if I can’t even protect my own child?”
These are all thoughts that filled my mind, time and time again after Ellie died. Even as I read them now, some of that same guilt starts to seep in through the deep cracks that once were. The cracks that I’ve spent nearly the past year finding ways to attempt to fill. My stomach churns just remembering the raw state I was once in. The state I still, at times, fall back into on a given day out of nowhere.
These same thoughts crept back into my mind just four months down the road after we lost our girl. As my husband and I watched medical professionals surround our son’s bedside in the emergency room, attempting to stabilize him long enough to sustain a helicopter flight to the children’s hospital. Some days I still ask myself if that really, truly actually happened.
These are the same thoughts that find their way to the forefront of my mind every single time we are faced with a decision when it comes to our son’s well-being. I go back and ask myself, “if I had done things differently, would Ellie still be here? Would Emmett never have gotten a life-threatening illness? Am I to blame for these things happening? What can we do right here, right now to keep him safe? We know what child loss is and we will do everything in our power to keep from experiencing it twice.”
But you see, these thoughts get us nowhere. (Once upon a time, I would have punched myself for saying that. But it’s true.)
They don’t get us anywhere.
Imagine our children up in heaven, watching over us. Imagine them watching us beat ourselves up and continue to dig ourselves into a deeper hole, day after day. To give some perspective, I’ve tried to picture my own parents being in my shoes, and me watching over them as they beat themselves up because they felt that my death was their fault. It makes me want to cry and it makes me feel helpless. I don’t want to do that to my girl. I won’t do that to her. I don’t want to spend my time that way. And it took me a long time to get to this place.
Is the idea of blaming oneself a natural part of grief after losing a child? Yes. As parents we are responsible for our children so we absolutely feel at fault, no matter the circumstance.
Will we always have days like this? Yes. For awhile, it may seem like every day. Then after awhile, the days get few and far between.
Is it OK to be sad? It’s more than OK. We have such sad days, weeks and months because we loved our babies so fiercely. And we still do.
The way I want to spend my days involves lifting up the short, but beautiful life that our daughter had. It involves advocating for our children and making informed decisions to keep Emmett healthy and safe at all costs. It involves my husband and I celebrating the fact that we brought two incredible little people into this world and how proud we are of them. It involves sharing our story with the world and supporting other grieving parents who have felt the same intense burden of blame and guilt.
If you are a grieving parent and you’re reading this, know this:
It is NOT your fault. Period.
You are the BEST parent you could possibly be to your child, no matter what.
Never stop celebrating who they are and the impact they have on your life.
When our babies look down to watch over us, that’s the view they want to see from heaven. And they deserve the best seats in the house.