Family Genes

I love blue jeans. In fact I love them so much I have newer, trimmer sizes “weighting” in the wings ready to wear . . . if you get my drift. Perhaps I’m the only one having to admit I’ve failed in my attempt to drop unwanted “somethings” in order to fit into them? Probably not . . . but let’s focus our attention on the other kind of genes for a moment.


~ Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death. ~ Coco Chanel

I am mindful that we all have hurting hearts. I like to ask questions to stimulate thought. If I fail in my attempt, please tell me so in your comments, and I promise to try harder.

Like snowflakes, we are all different and yet similar in our pain. Those of you who are new to your grief journey may choose to set this piece aside for now. I may be asking questions that only increase your pain, and I don’t want to do that. And may I add that I am so sorry for your unspeakable loss.

All of our losses leave us with questions that don’t seem to have answers. Often we are bombarded with guilt. I describe it for myself this way: It’s like having a personal black cloud overhead that follows me wherever I go. No one can take it away or tell me to get rid of it. They can advise me, but that is all. Ridding myself of guilt is something I must do. It has no power over me ~ only the power I give it. Once I realize that I have a choice between living under a black cloud or living in the sunshine, I can chose to set myself free, and release the guilt to the wind.

Releasing the guilt is like accepting a gift ~ the gift of self forgiveness. Often we have a hard time forgiving ourselves, but the gift is free for the taking. The point of this piece is that there is relief for the hurting soul, and it just might be found in forgiving oneself.

As I applied sunscreen today I noticed my furrowed brow . . . and I wasn’t even raising my eyebrows. No matter. It was still furrowed. I have no choice. I inherited this trait. My father had a furrowed brow, often in sync with raised eyebrows and crinkled wrinkles in his laugh lines. Not only my dad, but his sister, and their mother had the same furrows and crinkles. There are probably more likenesses even further generations back. We have sturdy genes! I know you know what I’m talking about, for you have them, too ~ those persistent traits passed down from generation to generation. Some we like. Some we’d eliminate if we could.

What about those traits we wish we could get rid of? Let’s say you don’t like your over-abundant sprinkling of freckles, or maybe your hair is curly, and you wish it were straight, or vice versa. What about the traits that are inside us; the ones hidden beneath the epidermis? Sometimes heredity predisposes us to disease. I am a carrier of Muscular Dystrophy (MD). Three uncles and two cousins died from MD from my side of the family tree. Females are carriers and MD predominantly affects boys. The disease manifested itself in early childhood showing weakness in large muscles. At the time in history when my uncles and cousins had MD, they were able to live until their early twenties.

What about depression? It’s another disease I know something about. Depression is also genetic and runs in families. I have depression. I do not know whether any of my ancestors had the disease. Maybe in those days it was not even diagnosed. Loss of children alone, like my maternal grandparents suffered, could send one into deep depression. I’ve been in and out of depression most of my adult life, and I have no doubt that I passed it to my firstborn son. Likely he suffered from it most of his young life. I never thought about depression being hereditary until long after my son took his life. Knowing we both carried a weakness for this silent disease in our gene pool hurts me deeply. I can’t help the hurt, but neither can I let self blame destroy me.

If you are a parent who has lost your child, and you suspect depression was a key factor, please don’t blame yourself. Depression is not easy to diagnose. It is a silent, relentless disease that can bring shame to those who suffer from it. I must admit that I have not sought treatment for it, although I acknowledge it during medical exams.

My son had been treated for depression in the past, but he did not want to go back on drugs. He was an adult. It was his decision. In spite of personal pain, he was an excellent employee and was well-liked among his peers. They were totally shocked by his suicide. How many others are like him in some way? How many would get jobs if they admitted on their resume that they suffered from depression? I’ve worked in Human Resources. From my experience I’d have to say, “Not likely.”

Those of us outliving a precious child, who chose to die by suicide, struggle to put guilt to rest. We created this child. They were bits and parts of two people who have both strengths and weaknesses in their genes. And not only our genes, but what about the weaknesses in our environment? Our children are impacted by all of it. Are we somehow responsible for the decisions they make once they leave home? Wouldn’t it be unrealistic to think so?

We aim to do our very best rearing our precious children, but there comes a day when they fly free. We want them to, don’t we? They need to make their own footprint in the world. We’d love to steer them clear of potential potholes, which we are more likely to see on the horizon. Wisdom coupled with age has given us clarity, but our young people don’t often take our advice. After they reach a certain age, they think they are wiser, more mature, and more in touch with the world.

It is my opinion that we have to let our children live and make their own choices while loving them unconditionally. It’s that final choice they made . . . the one we were powerless to stop . . . that breaks us. It has taken years, but now I understand and accept that my son was very depressed before he died and perhaps long before that. The realization that my son and I shared the same weakness will always hurt, but I couldn’t prevent his choices any more than I could prevent freckles. Our family of genes, coupled with life experiences, makes up the sum total of who we are. We have carried down through the generations the strengths and weaknesses of our ancestors. And if we go all the way back to our first parents, Adam and Eve, we realize that they sinned. And their sin has been carried forward in every generation since.

Why not list depression with all other diseases that don’t have a stigma? Let’s detonate the stigma of shame that society has attached to depression. Let’s talk about it freely, just like we are learning to talk openly about suicide. Can we agree to not beat ourselves up over the parts of our genes that may or may not have played a significant role in our children’s deaths? It was their choice to die. Not ours. We tried to be the best parents we could be. To quote Maya Angelou, “If I’d known better I’d have done better.”

“Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.” 1 John 3:20 NLT

“The child does not share the guilt of the parent, nor the parent the guilt of the child.” Ezekiel 18:20 MSG

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Eternal, “plans for peace, not evil, to give you a future and hope—never forget that.” Jeremiah 29:11 VOICE




4 thoughts on “Family Genes

  1. Hi Nita! I’d forgotten about that MD running in your family! How brave to have even contemplated having children! And then to have two boys! That must have been so scary, the first minute you realized they were boys. You and Si don’t get enough credit for how incredibly brave you were!

    Love, Shirley


    • Hi Shirley, It was a long time ago, but thank you for remembering and yes, it was scary. What you don’t know is my history encouraged me to get tested (and my sisters) to see if I was a carrier. The results boiled down to this: “we can do an amnio to see what the sex is and then you can choose to abort if it is a boy.” Abort a boy just because he is a boy? Nope. Can’t do that. So I went ahead and carried to full term, twice, not knowing if… Thankfully, we did not have to face this trauma like my grandma and aunt before me. Our trauma came in a different form…years later. Love you, GF

  2. What a great thought, my son died at age of 27, he did not commit suicide, but I still feel guilty. My son lived with his friend because he was going to college and his friends condo was close. I tried to call him all day and he never answered which was unusual. Instead of getting my husband to get a hold of his friend right a way, I waited till the end of the day. I still feel guilty and I don’t know if I will ever totally forgive myself.

    • Dear Laureen, thank you for sharing your thoughts…they are sad ones, filled with remorse. I can understand those feelings. I have them too. I would love to hear more details of your story if you would like to share them, either here or if you prefer, at my email where no one reads but me. Perhaps it would be helpful for both of our “guilts” to share those details that still stick in us like thorns. Please write back? In His grip, Gracie

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