Recently, I posted an Instagram video in which I talked about my struggle with blame and shame regarding my son Sammy’s death. Whenever a parent grieves the loss of a child, regardless of how that death occurred, I think blame and shame will always play a role. As parents, our main goal is to protect our children from harm, so when tragedy strikes, it’s only natural that we turn our rage and grief inward and blame ourselves for not doing enough to shelter them.
But, even if you have never lost a child, you likely know exactly what I am talking about when I discuss how debilitating and insidious blame can be. Whenever something goes wrong in our lives, most of us have a knee-jerk instinct to blame ourselves or to feel ashamed or unworthy. That is why in my Instagram story, I said that I believe that blame is the opposite of self-love.
It is impossible for blame and self-love to co-exist. Self-love is recognizing that you are whole, that you are love, that you deserve love, and that you are strong enough and resilient enough to weather your soul’s storms. When we are in a place of blame, we are utterly divorced from that faith and trust and power. When we get lost in the whirlwind of thoughts about what we should have done differently or all the mistakes we have made over the years, we lose our connection to our source and get lost in the darkness.
Sometimes I catch myself in that place of blame and it reminds me of the book The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. In this classic children’s story, the Giving Tree exists purely to give and give to the little boy in the story. She gives him shade, apples, a place to climb and hide and rest. In return, she gets nothing. She gets winnowed away bit by bit, branch by branch, until there is nothing left of her but a stump.
This is what blame can do to us. We punish ourselves by existing in a state of self-denial and self-hate, chopping bits of ourselves away, trying to earn our way back to wholeness and forgiveness by inflicting pain and misery upon ourselves. We give it all away and keep nothing, allowing ourselves not even the smallest element of grace or compassion. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry and It’s all my fault, It’s all my fault, It’s all my fault are the words that become engraved on our heart, just as the little boy in the Giving Tree engraved his initials on the tree.
I know now how people die of grief. It’s not because of the loss, but the stories we tell ourselves about the loss. That it is all our fault. That we didn’t do enough. That we deserve nothing good and that we are fundamentally bad people or bad parents. It’s easy to see how these poisonous thoughts can run deep into our veins and cause us to die of a broken heart.
We weren’t put here on this earth to be Giving Trees. We were put here to give but also to receive. And for many of us, learning to receive is part of our soul contract and why we are here in this body, in this existence right now. I know that my soul needed to learn this lesson. Learning to release blame and shame is the most profound thing I have begun to learn as a result of losing my Sammy.
What I pray for now is the grace to let go of the guilt, the shame, and the sense of responsibility that stems from this loss. Ultimately, we can protect our kids as much as possible, but in the end, everyone has their own soul path, even our kids. As the great poet Khalil Gibran once wrote, our children come not FROM us, but THROUGH us. I cannot know why Sammy’s soul-contract unfolded this way or what the purpose of his early death was. But I can know that it is not my fault, that it was not under my control, and that blaming myself and denying myself the light of self-love would serve nothing and no one. That it would only add more pain and darkness to the world, which I firmly know is the opposite of what I was put on this earth to do.
So, I am making a proclamation that I am letting all of that blame and shame go. I am calling in all of my angels and my guides, including my sweet, sweet Sammy to help me hold onto that release. To help me hold onto that knowledge that nothing is really anyone’s fault when it comes to this kind of situation.
And I am reclaiming and fiercely holding onto the fact that I have the responsibility to claim my own truth. That I have the responsibility to be loved, to live from love, to act from love, to follow my own soul’s path, and to respect the soul path of others, even Sammy’s and my other sons’ paths as well. And I have the responsibility to feel this huge, aching loss and to allow it to exist without making up stories or running from it or rewriting it so that I am the villain.
Because what I have learned is that holding onto shame is what keeps me separate from Sammy as well as what keeps me separate from my grief. We often use shame and blame as a way to keep us from feeling all of our feelings. It’s a barrier that keeps us from plunging as deeply as possible into our grief, which I am learning is just another word for love. The more we resist our grief, the more we resist love, and as a result, this shame and blame keep us from staying connected to our lost loved ones.
I know when I can go into the place of pure love inside of me, when I journey to that beautiful flame in the center of my heart, that is when I can connect with Sammy. That place exists inside of all of us. It is a place that is so bright and so awash with love that blame and shame evaporate immediately in the sight of it. Yet we can’t reach that shining place as long as we are too afraid to let go of our blame and dive deep into the true pain of our loss.
That circle of light is the only thing that is real. All the rest of this, we’re kind of making up. The stories, the ideas of who we should be, or what we should be, or what we are responsible for, or what we deserve, when in truth, all we are is love and all we deserve is love.
Don’t misunderstand me: Even when I release that blame and shame, the pain is still there. The pain of my loss is always a part of me. But when I hold onto that bright flame and drop my illusion of self-blame, I can hold the pain with grace. I can ride the waves of my grief. I can be not just a Giving Tree, but a Receiving Tree. I can be who I was meant to be on this earth.