What if I had paid closer attention, encouraged him to take a different path, forbid her to ride with her friends, gotten him professional help, called the doctor sooner? If only I had seen it coming, noticed what was going on, listened more, taken her to the emergency room sooner, asked for help.
Sound familiar? What If and If Only are the two relentless monsters that will keep you awake at night and cause you untold misery. Their sole purpose is to drive you mad. There is no point in advising you to ignore them. They will terrorize you in the middle of the night, on your way to work, out of the blue during the day, on the way home and on and on. What If and If Only squeeze the life out of parents target parents who have lost children to drug overdoses, suicides, or alcoholism. Parents, under any circumstances, will find ways to blame themselves for any harm coming to their children. A parent is supposed to protect their child, and when bad things happen to that child, a parent will take the blame. The worst can happen to the best of parents. You did the best you could at the time. As parents, we have no control over life, whether we like it or not. Children cannot be locked up until the world is “safe.” Safe never happens. At some point you must let go of these monsters. The agony will not bring your child back. Honor their memory. Live for them. Know that you are not moving farther away from them, but that each day brings you closer.
Anger is another monster that sometimes sinks its teeth into grieving parents and won’t let go. It may stay only a short time or may take up permanent residence and turn into bitterness and hopelessness. This rage may be directed at God, a person responsible for your child’s death, the system, doctors, hospitals, police, drunk drivers, terrorists, or nothing obvious at all. Grieving parents may feel an unreasonable resentment towards strangers and even friends whose families are whole. You may hate the person who survived the accident that claimed your child. You may despise your co-workers who go on and on about their trivial problems, as if a broken fingernail could be considered a tragedy.
Don’t ever think you are alone in your anger, or that to be angry about your child’s death is unreasonable or unnatural. The force of your rage may be frightening, and you may need professional help. Don’t be ashamed to talk to a doctor.
A counselor told me that it is very important to get this rage out of the physical body. Beat on a pillow, hit baseballs, scream as loud as you can, run, walk, or dance, play tennis, golf, racquetball, anything that requires physical exertion. Anger over the death of your child is normal, it’s natural and you are not a freak.
At some point, either alone or with help, you will begin to feel the anger fade. Anger may be beneficial for a time, but left unchecked it turns into bitterness and hate. Remember and honor your child. Celebrate his or her life and bask in the warmth of their memories.