Could’ve, Should’ve and Guilt.

Your role as a parent.  Probably the biggest responsibility you’ll take on in your lifetime.  And one of the most complex.  When children are infants, their lives literally depend on you. As they grow, your job slowly shifts from life protector to instructor, role model, nurturer, cheerleader, the list goes on.  So it’s easy to understand why parents fall into the trap of living their lives for their children or feeling their children’s lives belong to them.

You are your child’s parent and your child’s life belonged to your child, not you.  You played a significant role in his/her life, but it wasn’t your life. Your child takes up a tremendous space in your life and heart, but he/she wasn’t your life and heart. You still have your life and heart.

For whatever reason, your child’s life path ended it when it did.  It’s brutal, it hurt like hell, the circumstances of his/her death were undoubtedly hurtful in and of themselves. Your life is completely changed and has a huge hole in it with your child’s name written on it. And you are still alive (even though some days you wish you weren’t). You probably feel guilt.

As brutal and heartbreaking as it may be to read and believe that, it is actually very freeing if you can accept it and own it, because it means:

  • You can release what “should’ve been” because it isn’t reality.  If it should’ve been, it would’ve been. While you may not like the journey your child’s life took, it was his/her journey.
  • Same for “could’ve been”. Your could’ve been is your vision for your child’s life, not reality, nor probably what your child’s vision for his/her own life would’ve been. What good is it serving you to hold on to this story of the could’ve been?
  • Guilt.  You didn’t choose your child’s path.  You were not responsible for his/her death.  Your child was his/her own person, you didn’t have ultimate control over what happened.  If you did, it would’ve had turned out very differently. Yes, there are probably things you can justifiably feel guilty about, and you really should do something about those things (I’ll follow up more on that in the future with ideas).

If your child’s life isn’t yours, what else does this mean?  Your life is NOT your child’s. You are responsible for your life today. You get to decide how you live today, tomorrow, next week. You get to decide your ongoing relationship with grief, guilt and pain.  You absolutely, 100% have to engage in a relationship with those uncomfortable, horrible feelings.  Avoiding and ignoring them doesn’t make them cease to exist. But you also get to choose, is this where you want to stay or would you like a different daily reality?

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