I cannot begin to fathom the pain of losing a spouse or a child. I cannot envision the unthinkable, unbearable pain of trying to move forward after losing someone who meant so much. And on top of that, the pain someone feels when they know it was their own fault — well, that must simply be impossible. But consider this…
Imagine this fictional (but realistic, and probably true for someone) story of a broken man. This man is an alcoholic; he was beaten as a child by his alcoholic father, and now he drinks heavily to keep himself from being violent against his own wife and child. One day, his wife’s car breaks down and he must pick her up and bring her and their child home. But he’s been drinking. He arrives at the place their car stalled, picks them up, and begins to drive home. But while turning left at an intersection, he does not see the oncoming truck in the other lane, pulls in front of it, and is broad-sided with immeasurable force, causing a fiery wreck. In the eerily-silent moments after the cars come to a halt, he looks over and can clearly see that his wife and child are dead — a grisly image he will never shake from his memory.
If this man had been sober, he would have clearly seen the oncoming truck. But he didn’t. Now, his wife and child are dead. Now, he must live the rest of his life with the realization that his world will never be the same because of the choice he made.
This is a fictional anecdote, but also a metaphor.
When we make choices in life, there are always consequences. These consequences may be tiny and immeasurable, but these consequences may also be massive and life-changing. And within those consequences — there lurk the demons of regret.
When something happens which is of no fault of our own, it is almost easier to handle the events because there was nothing we could have done. But when something terrible happens — of our own doing — the misery is doubled, or tripled, or more.
It is a different form of mourning.
I deeply mourn for those I hurt in my past as a result of my choices. I carry it like a weight on my shoulders every single day of my life. And it is a lingering misery which can only be temporarily masked by anti-depressants and brief moments of superficial joy. But when everything fades away, I still made choices that hurt people; I still made choices that ruined my life.
I have forgiven the “friend” who hurt me, the person who shattered my youthful naivete in the summer of 1998. Harboring anger toward him does me no good. And yet, I still cannot forgive myself for shattering the happiness of other people; I cannot forgive myself for making my wife’s professional career more difficult; I cannot forgive myself for making my daughter’s social life more difficult — both of which are a result of being related to me and the horrid baggage that comes with the stigma of my name.
Why do people think I’m: (a) somehow okay with what I’ve done in my past, (b) the same person I was over a decade ago, and (c) unrepentant of my actions? Do people think I’m just moving on with life, all hunky-dory and chipper? Do people think I’ve just put it all behind me and have moved on with my life?
My life is dead. The life I had — the successful respected high school English teacher, faithful husband, and committed father — is dead. That man is gone, and this broken shadow of the past is all that’s left.
This is my punishment. My 25-month minimum security prison sentence was nothing compared to the life sentence of remorse and regret I live with every single day. And the reality is, no anti-depressant pill will change the past; no amount of therapy or counseling will change the past.
The past happened — and it’s my fault. I ended a life — the life I lived before I made my destructive choices. And now, I mourn the death of that life as I try to merely exist in the ashes of what remains.
I’m sure there are “healthy” ways of coping with this, but nothing has worked for me yet. I’ve tried to change my perspectives; I’ve tried to “look on the bright side;” I’ve tried to talk it all out and make sense of it; I’ve sought the opinions of other people smarter than me; nothing has worked.
My life has been a fiery wreck and my tattered guilt-ridden memory is the only survivor.
Hey God, if you have a moment, I could really use some help with this…
…I really hope He’s listening.