Did I Accelerate My Mother’s Death?


My Mom passed away suddenly in April.  She had been having intestinal issues for a couple of months & I finally figured out it was from a prescription she was taking.  I had the doctor change it, but less than a week later, she died.  

I blame myself for not discovering sooner the medicine was causing it, and have blamed myself ever since, believing I let her down & am heartbroken.  She was my biggest inspiration.  As you can imagine, I miss her terribly.

 My husband says it is not my fault, and it was her time to go, but I feel I would still have her if I had figured it out sooner.  Do you think we each have a certain time we are appointed to die?



Dear Becky,

We are truly sorry for your great loss.  What a lovely tribute you give to your mother when you write, “She was my biggest inspiration.”

Blaming yourself is a natural reaction, but we agree with your husband that it is not a correct or productive one. Your letter makes clear (we edited for space; you provided more details) that you and your husband devotedly took care of your mother. If you could see into the future or if you were omniscient, you would have known that her medication was causing a problem; but those powers are not given to us. Her death may be completely unrelated to her treatment, as well. There is no reason to feel bad for being a human being. You did the best you could with the realities you saw.

We do believe that God appoints a time for each of us, however we also believe that human actions can accelerate or delay that time. Otherwise, there would be no reason to punish a murderer or to provide medical care or to pray for someone who is ill. Yet, we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that we are in charge.

Your loss is still fresh and your emotions are raw. Try not to divert yourself from the pain by focusing on self-flagellation.  You are still in the first year of mourning so rather than repeatedly reliving the medication issue in your mind, focus on all the good times you shared, all the gratitude you feel, and the wonderful example she set.

By sharing your mother’s story you are reminding us all to pay close attention to medicine interactions and of the need to monitor doctors. By sharing memories of her, you can encourage women to recognize their importance as mothers. The pain will never completely go away though it will lessen. The guilt should be abandoned right away.

Sending virtual hugs,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

6 thoughts on “Did I Accelerate My Mother’s Death?”

  1. Dear Rebecca–
    Thanks for reading our Ask the Rabbi feature and for your thoughtful comment. You’re of course quite right that there is no justification for murder there. In fact, you might be interested to know that if a person jumped off a hundred story building like the Empire State in NY, and you were at a window on the 10 floor, and as he plummeted past your window, you shot him dead, shortening his life by only half a second, you are guilty of murder.
    The sanctity of life is foundational to Biblical faith.
    Hope you have a healthy and prosperous new year (the ‘happy’ bit is up to us, right?)
    Please try out my podcast here https://soundcloud.com/rabbi-daniel-lapin-show

  2. Thank you for your comments about God’s timing for our lives is not set in stone. I’ve always believed that people can shorten their lives or the lives of others and medical technology can prevent the appointed time from happening, keeping people in a sort of limbo between worlds. If we stay with the appointed time being set in stone, we would be saying that, in the case of murder, it must have been God’s will and He used the murderer to carry out His will. I don’t happen to believe that.

  3. Today’s question is striking on any number of levels. A program on Fox News this evening asked viewers to tweet what they would do if they had unlimited power. I don’t tweet but my response to myself was I would give it back because I don’t have the wisdom to use unlimited power in a beneficial, let alone godly, way. As humans we all deal with guilt over decisions or actions that affect the lives of our loved ones. The “if only” game is designed to steal our peace, our trust in Ha Shem. He knows we are dust. He does not expect us never to make a mistake or to know every moment exactly the right thing to do. In light of that, He extends great love, compassion, mercy to us in the midst of our imperfection. Many of us have learned to extend similar love, compassion, and mercy to others. Now, we need to learn to extend acceptance of our own humanity to ourselves. Becky, I suspect that the notation next to your care for your mother reads something like, “well done, good and faithful servant.”

  4. Mark & Laura Lampe

    Wonderful response! My heart goes out to this dear lady and those dealing with aging parents and seemingly untimely deaths. Yes God is in control, He made us and He takes us home, we need to be reminded of that at times. No doubt she will see her mother again in god’s designated time.

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