Keeping Score After Child Loss: Good Mother or Bad Mother?

It’s tormenting to lose a child.  I put myself through an emotional wringer every day.  It’s almost like I’m keeping score.  There is the good mother column and the bad mother column, and the bad mother column always has the higher points.  I know it’s crazy.  I know I’m punishing myself, but I still do it.  I remind myself over and over again of all of the missed opportunities I had to be a good mother and it’s breaking my heart.  

When I got the phone call that my son died, I remember two things.  I remember falling to the floor screaming, “No! No!  Please, God, no!”, and I remember immediately thinking I failed as a mother.  That’s right.  Failure.  I blew it!  If it’s possible for a heart to bleed tears of blood, then that’s what mine did. And there are moments yet when the horrible thoughts of my many failures as a mother  overcome me and the tears that fall flow so hard and so heavy that they paralyze me.

What do I think about?  Everything possible that could label me as a bad mother.

I remember the times I dropped off Mike at nursery school and didn’t get out of the car to walk him inside. He was so shy and I didn’t walk in with him!  I remember yelling at him to quiet down and go to sleep. I should have read him a bedtime story instead.   I remember the times I was trying to cook supper for the other kids and didn’t go to his ball games.  Bad mother!  Terrible mother!  His ball game was far more important than fixing supper.  We could have bought hot dogs at the concession stand.  Why didn’t I understand that?

I remember how impatient I was with him as a teenager always on his case to clean up his bedroom.  Stupid stuff on my part.  Nagging.  Picking.  What fifteen year old boy is worried about making his bed every morning before school?

Why did I think that making a bed was important enough to holler and fuss about?  Bad, bad mother!

I remember being so upset with him when he took apart the weed eater and laid it all out on the garage floor.  He couldn’t get it put back together and I carried on like it was the end of the world.  Why didn’t I see this as his intelligence at work?

His curiosity is what propelled him in life yet I never seemed to be able to see beyond the messes he made.  Bad mother again!

I remember the times I was so angry with him that I just shut down and didn’t talk.

 Really?  I didn’t talk to my child?  Bad, horrible, terrible mother!  

I remember all of the missed opportunities to say how proud I was of him and to tell him how much I loved him.  One particular incident comes to mind.  It was late at night and I was laying in bed thinking of all he had been through with the company he had started.  Not an easy thing, for sure.  But, he was succeeding and doing well after overcoming many difficult obstacles.  So, I sent him a late night text and said how proud I was of him.  His response?  “Are you okay?”  “Why are you saying this to me?  You never say stuff like this.”

That was like an arrow shot through my heart.  He was right.  I didn’t say those words often enough.  Terrible mother.  Terrible, terrible mother!  I thought those things plenty of times, but I failed to say the words.  I’ve thought about that thousands of times since he died.

My score card doesn’t look good.  “F” – failure.  That’s how I feel so much of the time.  

I don’t want people feeling sorry for me.  No parent of child loss wants that.

But, every parent needs occasional validation that we tried our best.  The guilt of losing a child is often overwhelming.  

On my better days I can remember the good stuff.  I remember going without food to make sure Mike got his new skis and season ski pass.  I remember listening to Mike for hours on end when his heart was broken over a girlfriend who broke up with him.  I remember calling him for late night talks when he didn’t get voted into the club in his Freshman year in college.  I remember always cooking his favorite foods.  I remember sending him money when I really and truly didn’t have it.  Those things were a joy to do.  And, I’d make those same sacrifices a thousand times over if I could.  Only this time, I would have a better score card.  I’d have many more marks in the good mother column.  In fact, I’d score a trip A plus if I could just be his mom all over again. But, I can’t.

There are no second chances to being a mom.  One time around is all we get.

The death of a child is brutal.  Terribly brutal for a parent.  We love our children with every breath within us yet there are times when we feel as though we’ve  failed miserably.  This feeling of failure is a thousand times worse when a child dies.  

If only…………..if only death wasn’t so permanent I know I could get this mother thing right the second time around.

Love,

Clara

If you connected in any way with the thoughts expressed in this short article, I urge you to get a copy of the book Child Loss – The Heartbreak and the Hope.

If you are in need of daily hope and encouragement, please order a copy of Hope 365: Daily Meditations for the Grieving Heart.

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15 Comments

  1. Clara your fb pages, posts snd books have helped me so much, I’d like to share my thoughts on your report card. When he was shy and walking into nursery school you taught him to be strong and face his fears. I have no doubt your eyes never left him. Telling him to go to sleep ensured him getting enough sleep to grow and be healthy. I’m sure you attended many ball games and remember you had other children to feed a healthy meal to. Cleaning his bedroom taught him responsibility… something many parents do not teach. Wanting him to finish putting together the weed Wacker he took apart was teaching him to finish what he started. And not talking to him when you were angry with him… well sometimes I find it is better to be silent, perhaps what you would have said might have brought more regret than silence. You see Clara, what I see here is what being a great mother is… it sounds as if your son Mike was successful and happy. And that my friend is largely in part because of the mother you were to him. So my prayer for you is for you to try to have more good days and remember the sacrifices you made and the love you gave to your son. God bless you my sister in this horrible journey of child loss. Much love. Much love.

    1. Kim, You have no idea how much your words mean to me. I have read them over several times already. Thank you so very, very much! I appreciate so much the encouragement and kindness! Yes, Mike was very happily married and he was so happy with his own business. He was a fine young man. Thank you for recognizing that by what I’ve written. You’ve given me the very words I needed to hear. Thank you from the depths of my heart. Love, Clara

      1. Wow, Kim. As I am reading this article by Clara, I can relate to every word. All of the wishes to go back and do it perfectly, without any conflict or frustrations. Then I read your comment, what an amazing way to look at parenting! Your words of validation are so right on. I am in tears reading how you took the mom guiltthat we beat ourselves up with, and turned it into truth of our love for our kids!! The frustrations are because we want what is best for our kids. We want successful, responsible, confident children who turn into happy adults who are successful, responsible, and confident!! The words that you spoke into Clara are so true and profound. They not only really touched her heart, but mine as well. Hugs and love to you.
        -Erica

  2. I have the same feelings. My son died in a tragic car accident when he was 34. He lived with us most of his life, except for about 2 years. It was November 6th, 2014, one week before his 35th birthday. He had epilepsy and blackouts and I l went away for one night…..when I got home he had gone on a bike ride. It was rainy and dark and he never made it home. He had a black out and got lost, ended up riding his bike onto a major highway in the wrong direction. I felt guilty about going away for a night but he said he was fine to take care of the pets while I was gone. I wish I never went or if I did that I could have taken him with me…. I also feel bad for the couple that hit him in the pitch black on a rainy night. I have been told that I am suffering PTSD but it is really a broken heart. I have not paid much attention to my other 3 grown children because I am broken.

    1. Oh, Cheryl, I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I understand so much about your brokenness. We play that “if only” game with ourselves over and over again, don’t we? If only I had done this. I only I had stayed home. If only I had been more vigilant. And, on and on we go. The guilt associated with child loss is like a constant tidal wave hitting us.

      I hope that somehow, some way you’ll be able to focus more of your attention on your 3 children in the days to come. I’m sure they need you so much, and it’s probably so hard for them to see you this broken. One step, one day, one breath at a time. My love to you as you continue on this journey of loss. Be kind to yourself. **I have to tell myself that several times every day. We are our worst critics, aren’t we?

  3. Clara, I can identify with this post so much. I just lost my son on November 2nd and am feeling like a terrible mother. I wasn’t there to protect him from the horrible monster(s) who took his life. He was 32 years old and had so much living left to do. Now I’m left with not wanting to live without him. I am reading your books and find your words encouraging. I look forward to your emails. Thank you so much for all that you do!

    1. Karen, I think almost all of us who have lost a child can identify with feelings of failure — of somehow letting our child down. It’s inborn in us to want to nurture and protect our children, and when we can’t — we feel like we are somehow to blame. I’m so very sorry for the loss of your son. Thirty-two is such a young age. Life sure does have its share of unfairness and pain, doesn’t it?

      I hope and pray that the words in the book will help strengthen you as you continue alone on this journey of grief. My special love to you.

  4. I own a campground and there are now 3 of us that have lost our sons. One young man was bipolar and committed suicide, another young man had a substance abuse issue and then my son who was epileptic. Not a great club and I would not recommend joining. Christmas is supposed to be a happy time but with our losses of 1 year, 2 years and 3 years it is anything but. I love my other 3 adult children and try to be strong for them but the emotional struggle is hard. Acting happy or positive takes all my energy. I should be thankful for what I have and not what I had but I am struggling to get through the hallmark season.

    1. Cheryl, This is so very sad. I hope that somehow you three moms can find a way to honor your sons. As terribly sad as this is (and it is beyond terribly sad) it’s a blessing that you three have one another to talk with and to share your feelings. The emotional struggle you talk about is magnified so much during the holidays. I guess there’s just so much outside pressure to be happy and festive. I hope that you can form an even stronger bond of friendship than you already have and help one another through this holiday.

      My special love to you.

  5. My Only son was 18 for 1 Month…looking forward to graduating high school the following year and the joy of our lives. He never gave us 1 problem in life. He was born 2 lbs. 10 ozs. & very preemie at birth. He grew to be 6’3 and wore a size 13 shoe. lol..4 gang members saw him sitting on our porch one day and decided to shoot him….still unsolved. My life has been forever changed. 4 years later…still in therapy and still on PTSD and anxiety medication. I served in the Army at a young age but nothing prepared me for this…This article reminds me of my daily struggle to make myself believe that there was nothing I could have done to save him. I kept him safe and protected him all of his life because of his prematurity. I was always afraid that someone would take advantage of his naivety and kindness because you see even at 6’3 he was just a gentle giant. I miss him with every fiber of my body and pray for justice…One Day…

    1. Karin, Sending great big hugs your way today. I’m so very, very sorry about the loss of your son. Life sure does have a way of turning things upside down and inside out sometimes, doesn’t it? I think many, many of us go through these daily emotional struggles. We wish things were so different….always being our own worst critic.

      I love how you’ve called your son a “gentle giant.” He sounds like he was wonderful — the kind of person everyone would want to call friend. Again, I’m so very sorry.

  6. I can so relate to this. My son committed suicide on 11/08/16, which happened to be his older sister’s birthday. I honestly do not think he even thought of that, just wanting the demons in his head to stop. He had depression for years, different meds and nothing seemed to get him back to “normal” Then he decided to try shock therapy. We begged him not to, to wait until we could get more info. He started them in the middle of our busy harvest season. I thought working and giving him money every month to help pay bills until his disability came through would help alliviate some of the pressure on him. The shock made him worse. His gf text me that morning that she was worried about him. I agonized over driving the hour to go see him, would he even open the door. He would just shut down and stay in bed all day when he got bad. I saw he left the house so a sigh of relief that it was a better day for him. No, I was wrong. He waiting for his gf to get home, talked awhile then left. She really didn’t think much of it. He seemed ok. she went back in and found his note around the same time he sent me a text saying he messaged me on facebook. A suicide note………panic, I trying calling and texting him begging him to contact me. We went searching for him. Not far enough….something held us back from going down that road. Wouldn’t have mattered…he was gone before we left our house. 23 minutes after his message to me. The pain, the guilt, the should have-would-have-could have-what if. Haunts me day and night. I miss him so…..my only son 🙁

    1. Oh, Katherine. I’m so very, very sorry. Suicide leaves such terrible guilt for those left behind. So many questions without answers. So many if only’s. We drive ourselves nearly crazy wishing things were so different — wishing we could go back in time for those few critical moments and do things over.

      Please be gentle with yourself. Again, I’m so very, very sorry. My love to you.

  7. Thank you Clara. Just writing that all out made me feel a little better. The guilt will always be there. And the heartbreak. We just learn to live with this “new normal”. Now the task of taking care of his personal stuff, bills and belongings. Never really over. Prayers and love to you.