The Voice of Blame
Long after, the guilt festers. My mind has analyzed what few facts I have, from every possible angle, a thousand times; and I have—because you must, in order to continue to live—accepted my son’s death.
And then in a quiet moment, the voice comes. “He had to die because of you,” it says. “You are a monster. He had to get away from you. He ran as far as he could go, into death itself, to escape from you.”
The voice frightens me, because I do not disagree with it.
The Voice Haunts Many of Us
Where does it come from, and why still? Haven’t I cried enough, mourned enough, struggling mightily to crawl out from underneath the guilt? I realize, because they’ve told me, that many of my son’s friends blame themselves as well. They imagine that if they’d only met him for coffee that day or returned his phone call that week; if they’d only listened more deeply and empathically, he might still be here.
Their only crime is compassion, too much of it; but they tell me they hear the voice too. And then my guilt compounds, because if not for my own monstrosity as a mother, their dear friend would be alive.
What Causes It?
Psychology—ah, at times I’d like to spit on all I’ve read—states that guilt emerges from an egoic belief in one’s own omnipotence, as if a human could stop another human from dying if they had decided to do so. Statistics tell me that if someone is determined to die, they will find a time and a way, even in prison or hospital … even if I had watched over him more closely in those bleak last months.
None of that matters: The voice knows better. And it terrifies me, because it makes me want to end my own life. As if nothing I ever will do can make up for my culpability in my son’s suicide, and the world would be far better off without the continued pollution of me.
Even One Minute of Silence Can Shatter Me
Writing these words now, I am not trying to glamorize anything, only to bear witness that an otherwise healthy woman who appears to be one hundred percent functional can shatter into a thousand pieces in one minute of silence.
What’s the antidote for this level of self-loathing? I’ve tried to cry and drink and sleep it away. I’ve joined grief and loss support groups, read dozens of books, and devoted hundreds of hours to therapy. But there is only one solution, and it is incredibly difficult to make myself do it. It is the opposite of my entire body and brain full of instincts: It is to reach out.
Like a drowning person grasping for a lifeline, I try one person, then another, then another. Not just anyone, because only a few possess the capacity for understanding and strength to listen at a time like this. I keep trying until it works, and someone on the other end of my desperation picks up. Maybe I will cry, maybe I will explain, but it will never be the whole story because that is too terrifying.
The one who listens does not save me, and neither do I. However, the thread of connection keeps me breathing, just for now; and that is all anyone can do.
Photograph courtesy of Markus Spiske on Unsplash.