Is It My Fault?

Is it my fault?

Did I do something wrong? Did I miss something? Could I have done something differently?

What could I have done to save my child? Where did I drop the ball? Where did I let my child down?

andrew hockey 3There are many stages of grief. Some people say there are eight, some say there are five, while others say there are eleven or so. But this is the one stage of grief that everyone has on their list. Some call it anger – anger that we didn’t do something we could have – or that the doctors didn’t do something that we could have asked or pushed for. Some call it reflection – where we reflect on what happened and deal with it. While others call it self-blame. No matter what you call it, no matter where it lies on the list, no matter how much you don’t want to face it, every bereaved parent does. It is a healthy and a required step to deal with, and resolve, in order to move on to the next stage of your grief.

Fault, blame, responsibility, maybe omission, accountability. Whatever you call it –  was it my fault? That is the question that haunts so many of us.

A couple we are friends with, lost their child when she fell down a flight of stairs after she had drunk too much.  They were not there, she was in his twenties and lived alone. She came home from a wedding and while trying to open the door to her apartment, she lost his balance and fell backwards down the stairs. They blamed themselves for a long period of time. They were mad that they didn’t drive her home that last night to make sure she got into bed. They were mad that they didn’t teach her better not to drink so much, or to ask someone for help if she was in no condition to get home alone. But as off base as that is, as much as we all see it was not their fault, they still had to reflect on what they could have done differently. In no way could they have foreseen this. No way could they have brought her up differently to prevent this tragic accident. But still, it took them time to get over it and realize that they were not to blame.

For many parents, especially those of young men who pass away from drug overdoses, it is particularly hard. They looked at their sons over several months or years and watched as they deteriorated. They saw what was going on and the drugs taking over their child’s life. They helped them by sending them to rehab facilities, both locally and far away. They spent tens of thousands of dollars at the best places that were available. They helped their sons by bringing them to doctors who were so called “experts” on addiction. They educated themselves on addiction in order to help their boys. They stayed home with them when they needed it. They showered them with love and praise and gave them everything they could to help them get through the addiction.

And yet, they died. And yet, they still overdosed. They ran away from the facilities, they found the drugs they needed, they got back together with those who were such terrible influences on them. And they tragically died. Very young.

Those parents ask themselves every day – what could I have done differently? What more could I have done? Where did I fail my son? And they cry over it. Not only for their loss, but for the blame that they feel.

But they didn’t fail. There was nothing more they could have done. They tried their best and their children knew it. They spent their money wisely, and they did their research. But addiction is a massive disease, and there are no rehab facilities that really work. Addiction is overwhelming and all-consuming. Some people, especially those with co-occurring disorders(*), just can’t get over their addiction. The doctors and the therapists just don’t work sometime. It is hard for me to say, and hard for many to understand, but these young men were destined to pass away young. They were stricken not only with ADD, ADHD, OCS, but they also had very addictive personalities.

Their parents go through a long time of remorse and thinking of what else they could have done. And until they learn that they did everything they could have, it is hard for them to get over their grief and pain. No, it was not their fault. If their sons were here today, when they come to them in their dreams, when they come through a psychic, they all say – it wasn’t your fault – you did everything you could do.

CCI09222014_00001CCI09222014_00001Even for me, was it my fault? I look back and question myself. Three days before Andrew passed away he asked me for a new skateboard to go to and from classes with. His current one (of many) was getting old and slow. I of course wanted to make him happy, so we went out the next day and bought him one. It had great IBEK 7 gliding ball bearings built for speed, and wheels built for cornering and traction, and the board itself had great flex designed for control. But was it too much for him? Was the board over his abilities? If I had bought him a slower, cheaper, board maybe he would not have fallen that day and broken his hand. And if he had not fallen and broken his hand he would not have taken the medications the doctors prescribed. And if he would not have taken the medications, his lungs would not have shut down at night. And he would still be with us today. That thought process plays out in my head over and over again. And the doubt that I could have done something different is always there.

It has taken me a long time, but I realize it was not my fault. There was nothing that I could have done to stop what happened. If I had made him wear wrist guards, would that have helped? Maybe. Or a helmet? Maybe. But it was not to be. This is the way he was, this is the situation that happened, and what happened was a freak accident, and it caused my son his life. It changed so many other lives as well. But it was no one’s fault. It was not his fault, nor was it mine. And that has taken me a long, long time to realize.

A friend’s son passed away recently of complications from cystic fibrosis. She is going through the blame process now, and I feel for her. She was there to protect her son. She was there in the hospital to make sure he got the best medical treatment possible. She did all that. She fought for him, she guarded him, she held his hand. She did everything right – and yet he is gone. She is left with dealing with his loss and the blame game.

Unfortunately he was stricken with a debilitating and deadly disease. She loved him. He was a successful person in life because of her. He taught Yoga and Philosophy – that she should be proud of. In her thoughts, did she do enough to protect and save him? It will take her weeks, or months, or years. One day she will come to peace with her answer. She will be at ease, realizing that she did everything right. He passed away because of a disease – not because she missed something, or for something she could have done. She has to realize that one day in order to move on in life, in order to properly grieve, in order to smile one day. She will always cry for her loss, she will always cry for her son, but the tears will be of memories, not of fault.

We all have to realize that one day. As I said, for some it takes months, for others it takes years. And for some, the unfortunate few, it never happens.

Even for the parents of a child who passed away from a brain hemorrhage in just a few short hours – could they have gotten him to the hospital faster, or could they have recognized he was tired sooner? It was not their fault.

Or the parents whose child was kidnapped and murdered. Did they not teach her to be safer? Did they not give her the tools to properly protect herself? Did they not teach their son not to race his car? Where did they fail? Where did they mess up?

Or the child that passed away in a ski accident, or playing hockey, or from anorexia/bulemia. It was no one’s fault. It just happened.

Is it their fault? No. No. No. Easier said than accepted. Easier listened to than learned. It is one of those stages of grief that many grieving parents get stuck in – sometimes forever. But it is one that we all must face, and we all must look into the deepest recesses of our minds and deal with. We have to realize we did protect our children the best we knew how. We did everything we could have done to protect them, to love them, and to shelter them. But somehow they passed away. Somehow they got cheated out of the rest of their lives. And in order for us, those that they left behind, not to get cheated out of the rest of our lives, not to cheat the family that they left behind, we must face this question and answer it. Answer it only to ourselves. And then move on to loving our missing children forever, knowing that they are still loving us and will be there forever loving us.

“You cannot save someone – you can only love them” – anonymous

For more information on co-occurring disorders – please see the Harris Project –     Andrew & Nicole   Such different personalities

7 thoughts on “Is It My Fault?

  1. Barbara Muldoon

    Once again you have dealt with an issue that is very close to me. We just talked about this at our meeting, I know in my head I am not guilty, but my heart and my yearning keeps asking could I, why didn’t I, and it hurts like hell. thank you so much for addressing this issue, as you said, we all suffer this. Thank you again.

  2. Peter Heymann

    Wonderfully expressed Perry. The soul-searching and grieving you shared is helpful for so many people. Sometimes as parents we do feel all-powerful and able to handle every situation for our kids and keep them safe at all times at all stages of their lives. Not true. We are not all-powerful. We can only control so much and that actually is so little. We only have control over our attitudes as parents and how much we show and provide love. That’s really about it when it comes right down to it.
    The sentiment you express at the end of your blog should be read over and over,“You cannot save someone – you can only love them”. That’s a concept to embrace as parents…we can only love them, forever.

  3. Leslie Hutton

    So many bereaved parents spend so much energy on the guilt stage of this journey. It is not just simple guilt. It is the realization that the control we thought we had was an illusion. There is no way to protect our kids from everything-it is impossible but yet we think it is our fault when something happens. We all did the best we could do with the information we had a the time. Hindsight is cruel in the way that it gives us information that was impossible to know at the time and makes us second guess ourselves. Would I have stayed home and sat with Beth if I known that she was going to collapse? Of course I would have but there was no way to know that ahead of time. Sadly I can tell a bereaved parent a million times that they have no reason to feel guilt-but until they realize it themselves all I can do is listen. Once again Perry you bring up such a difficult topic in such a supportive and compassionate way. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Kathryn

      Your sentiments are spot on Leslie. My daughter succumbed to her inner demons & took her own life just over 23 weeks ago. I didn’t even realise she had these “demons”. Throughout her 20 years of life, she was always the girl so adored by family & friends, the one who challenged negativity and nastiness with positivity and love, the one with the brilliant intellect, the creative nature & the ability to bring calm & peace to others. Meanwhile, living under my roof, she was slowly becoming dependent on cannabis. This, eventually, resulted in the development of a degree of psychosis. Looking back, I can see that the changes that appeared subtle at the time, are all too obvious. How could I not notice? How could the child that had been so carefree, bright and independent her whole life be sucked into that world. She never appeared to be “misbehaving” ….. she moved away to University during the last 12 months of her life …. I’d, occasionally, sense some restlessness and lack of direction but when I’d enquire … her response was always “don’t worry about me Mummy, just look after yourself”.

  4. Susan Wallace

    After re-reading this post, my understanding of how you feel is still off-base, and rightly so… Although I can connect, as every parent can when their children get into significant trouble – be it with drugs, the law, school, relationships, etc. the wondering, “Is it my fault?” can still be dealt with… We can ask our children if we have done something wrong, mislead then somehow, were not the role model we should have been, played the role of enabler…on…and…on… Unfortunately you can’t ask Andrew those questions, and that is where my ability to relate ends. This post has changed my thinking about the here and now… Can I do more to support/guide my kids? Good question. At 24 and 22 I’m not sure how much they would listen… But at least I have the chance. As always your post has made me rethink parenting and how much we beat ourselves up.

    Of course this was not your fault, but it is so very clear where your thinking comes from. You are a very strong man for releasing your inner thoughts publicly… My thoughts are always with you, Dorothy, and Nicole…

  5. Sally


    I only read your post this morning after a very difficult weekend bringing my 90 year old Dad to the emergency room for out of control Diabetes. Even though your post is about Fault and Blame regarding our deceased children and could we have done more, I know it is just a matter of time when I will be asking the same thing about my dad when he passes. The answer will be the same, ie, “We did the best we could with what we knew at the time” and only hindsite is 20/20.

    Thank you for easing some of my guilt.

  6. anna giorgianni

    I want to thank you Perry for sharing your thoughts, all that you said, I feel. I just want to say, I’m not even close to forgiving myself for Josephine’s death, and honestly, I don’t know if I can. Her death was a complete shock to me. I got a call one Sunday morning from her friend’s mom who she was living with. I was by myself, I had to wait for my sister to come home so she could drive me to dutchess county, that’s where she lived. I remember speaking to the detective in charge while my sister drove me, him telling me where and how she died in her sleep, and then asking me if she had a drug problem, I was like what? I told him she was on antidepressants and anxiety meds, he said she probably died of a heroin overdose, they found evidence in her car. Perry, I had no clue, I would visit her twice a month, speak with Regina, that’s her friends mom, weekly, when the detective told me that I didn’t believe him, I felt very close to my daughter, I spoke to her everyday, but not a day goes by that I back track in my mind, what did I miss? I have asked everyone in Josephine’s life, who would speak to me, I have been playing detective since she died, because I questioned how could this have happened, she lived with a family, she worked, had a steady boyfriend, and I and some others were clueless and shocked and others who knew didn’t step up to say anything. Yes I went thru all the emotions of anger, guilt, blaming myself, For me, my heart aches for my daughter every day, I’m reminded by my therapist to be good to myself and work on not beating myself up, I’m not there yet and I don’t know if that will ever happen. I had such dealing with the death of my mother at an early age but this is a totally different experience, much worse, I feel. Thanks for sharing and letting me share with you. Take care of yourself, Anna


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