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Question of the Month
Guilt From Difficult Decisions. My baby died after a long struggle and after we decided to remove him from live support. How can I get over the guilt of making that decision and the feeling that maybe we should have done more to help him live?

From Laura Randolph . . .

Like you, my husband and I made the decision to remove our baby from life support. There are still fleeting moments when I question our decision, especially when I hear of some miraculous recovery by a child on life support. During these moments I remind myself of the painful reality of our son's condition and the odds of recovery or survival the doctors gave us. I also remind myself of the children on life support who never make a miraculous recovery and who continue to suffer.

For me, it is also helpful to acknowledge that if circumstances had been different we would have made a different decision. For example, if our son had not been deprived of oxygen for so long, there might have been some hope for recovery and we might not have chosen to disconnect life support.

It helps to remember that there were reasons behind our decision and it was not made lightly. Sometimes I find I only remember the sweetness of my son's smell and the softness of his skin and then wonder why we made the decision we did. It is then that I must remind myself of the reality of his condition even though it is painful to recall.

I remind myself of our emotional state at that time and that we made the best decision we could based on the facts we were given. When the guilt is particularly bad and I am truly questioning our decision, I ask our son for forgiveness if we made the wrong decision and pray that he knows we made the decision out of love and were only doing what we truly believed was best for him.

A book that has helped me deal with lingering doubts about our decision to disconnect life support is "Fly Away Home" by Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D. It is available from Centering Corporation, which can be contacted online at Centering.org or by phone (402) 553-1200. Reading this book helped me resolve many issues surrounding our decision and perhaps you will find that true for you as well.

My heart goes out to you as you work through these emotions on your journey to peace.

Laura Randolph

Ann DouglasFrom Ann Douglas . . .

Making the decision to remove a loved one from life support is one of the most difficult decisions a family member can be asked to make. There is no happy outcome. You are being forced to choose between two unhappy outcomes.

Rather than second-guessing the decision you made, try to focus on the fact that you made the decision that you made out of love for your son. If you find that you simply can't make peace with your decision on your own, you may want to set up an appointment to talk through your concerns with a counselor who specializes in bereavement issues. Sometimes these issues are simply too difficult to work through on our own.

Ann Douglas

Marilyn HeavilinFrom Marilyn Heavilin . . .

No matter how a child dies, I believe every parent feels some guilt because they feel they should have done more.

I have a strong belief in God and I feel that even if we remove someone from life support, God is not limited by our actions. If He chose to have your child continue to live, it would happen. I believe removing someone from life support is not giving up, it is giving over.

I think it will help for you to talk your feelings out with someone who was not closely involved with your baby, perhaps a good friend, a minister, or a counselor. It is obvious to me that this was an extremely hard decision for you and you chose to remove the life support because you loved your baby so much, you didn't want him to suffer any more. Only a very loving and conscientious parent can make such a decision.

Much love,
Marilyn Heavilin

Sherokee IlseFrom Sherokee Ilse

You made the best decision you could at the time. What has happened can not be undone and living your life backward, second guessing, does not help you. Of course, it is natural to second guess, but ask yourself if this really helps you or your beloved baby in anyway. It does not. Remembering back you may recall that you were exhausted, in pain, and feeling helpless. You likely sought out advice and information from the doctors and anyone else you could find. You were watching your baby suffer, knowing that getting better did not look like an option. So you told the medical establishment to STOP. You did this out of love for your sweet little one. It is time to let go of those wonderings and live in the present.

Now for the guilt part. Ask 10 friends if they have major guilt in their lives, regrets they wish or wonder if they could undo. Probably at least 8 will admit to having these feelings. In our humanness we have to make decisions each day, some more momentous than others, that once made cannot be undone. Yet we make these decisions often without the benefit of knowing all there is to know--an impossible task. Guilt is natural and normal as long as it does not get out of hand. Don't let it. Some amount is indeed understandable, but if you allow it to overtake you, your life and happiness will be affected. Seek forgiveness from yourself, your partner and from God (if you belive in God). Pray and/or write a letter to your baby and to yourself asking for forgiveness. In being forgiven (especially by yourself) you will feel some freedom to move forward. You are a good person who was asked to do the impossible--make a decision about another life. Yet you had no choice; if you did not make this decision who would have? Again I say, let go of this enormous guilt and move it into the normal, human category so you can now move on.

Sherokee Ilse

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