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The Burden of Guilt
Written by Clara Hinton   |  Aug 15, 2002
Guilt and grief seem to team up together for a long time following the death of a child. In fact, guilt is one very real reason many parents often fall into a depression following child loss. This is especially true when the death of a young child is involved.

A parent is often plagued with such questions as “Why didn’t I see the symptoms of my child’s illness sooner?” “Why did I leave my child unattended by the pool?” “Why did I trust the babysitter when I knew she was inexperienced?” “Why didn’t I follow my gut instincts and take my child to the doctor one day sooner?” Guilt is a heavy burden to carry around, and unattended guilt can cause havoc in the life of a burdened parent.

How does a parent get rid of the guilt associated with child loss? There are things a parent can to do help, but let me preface this by saying that if depression has become part of your life, it is necessary to seek professional help. Depression is real, and there are several medications available to specifically treat depression. Often, it will be suggested to receive counseling for depression along with taking the medication. There are many trained doctors who can help you.

If you feel an overwhelming sadness that incapacitates you, seek help. Or, if you have such overpowering feelings of guilt that you feel like harming yourself or harming someone else, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Remember, there is help available for depression, and depression is not something that you can just get over in a day or two.

Guilt will greatly interfere with your ability to move forward in grief work. It is extremely important to recognize the fact that you are struggling with guilt and then to do something positive to remove the guilt from your life. The first, and most difficult step to take is to forgive yourself. This is no small task, and often will take weeks of concentrated work to do this.

Write a letter that journals your thoughts, including all of the guilt that is weighing you down. In this letter, ask your child to forgive you. It is often helpful to go to the gravesite of your child and read the letter aloud. There seems to be great healing in asking your child for forgiveness. Many parents have held a “forgiveness ritual” where the letter is read aloud, then the letter is taken away and burned, thereby signifying the idea of putting the guilt behind you.

Parents also find great comfort in prayer. Ask God to forgive you, and then remind yourself often that you have truly been forgiven. This way of forgiveness thinking begins a cycle of healthy healing in the difficult journey of child loss.

Remind yourself daily that you cannot change what is done, but you can move forward and live today. This often takes the longest time to do. Parents so often are plagued with the “what if” questions. There is never any resolution to the guilt associated with “what if”. It is necessary to forgive the past, and gradually take steps to move forward into the present. This is no small task for a grieving parent.

Removing guilt from child loss can be the hardest work you will ever do. It takes time to shed guilt, so be gentle with yourself. Forgiveness of self is the most necessary part of all. Seek professional help for depression. Be assured that when guilt is removed from your life, you have accomplished a great step forward in this difficult journey we call grief from child loss.
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