Not only is guilt a cruel master, but for those of us who have lost a child, guilt becomes a very unwelcome, constant acquaintance. I felt terrible guilt after my son died. I thought I had committed the greatest sin possible. God had given me this child and I failed to protect him. I literally felt I was walking around with a scarlet letter, "F" on my back because of my enormous failure. I was sure everyone one knew what I had "done."
It took a lot of therapy to cope with this. I felt I could have or should have prevented my son's death. I failed to realize what danger he was in. I should have been able to rescue him somehow. I had told my son, Chris, not to return to see this young woman he had just broken up with. And not to return at all to the town where she lived.
I actually told him, "Do not go back there. I feel your life is in danger." He replied, "Don't worry Mom. I can take care of myself." Yet he had told me, "If anything ever happens to me, I have all her cards and letters in my bureau drawer." I have to admit I was not only bewildered, but very distracted. My husband, Chris' father, was quite ill and in a nursing home. He was getting worse and there was no hope for his recovery. I thought after his passing, I would have more time and energy to devote to Chris' needs. Since Chris' involvement with this young woman, he had become secretive with me and for the first time ever, began lying to me. I truly did not know what evil I was up against.
Then it happened. I had had a tremendously busy day in the inner city high school where I worked as a school nurse. I hadn't had time to call Chris. I arrived home to find a note on the kitchen table that he had fed Amber, our dog, and taken her out. No other information. This was shortly after 3pm.
I started calling Chris, but he never returned my calls until about 7:30 pm. I asked him where he was. He said in a nearby town. I didn't believe him. I asked, "For four hours?" I don't remember what he said. I asked him if he would be home by later tonight and he said he would. I thought well, as long as he comes home, he will be all right. We ended the call. A fatal mistake on my part. I was at the nursing home at the time with my husband. I remember telling my husband, "Something is wrong. Chris didn't sound right." He replied not to worry. Chris would be all right. I think I tried to call again, but Chris did not pick up. My mind was not settled, but I didn't keep trying to call him. Another fatal mistake.
I went home, changed into my nightgown. Amber and I fell asleep on the couch while watching TV. We were awakened by the doorbell ringing at 1:00 am. I said to Amber, "Who could that be? Chrissy must have forgotten his key." I opened the door and to my shock, two police officers were standing there along with one of my neighbors. They all came in and one officer gave me the terrible news. Chris was dead. I couldn't believe what they were telling me. It seemed all wrong. I kept thinking how could I possibly tell mu very ill husband?
A lot of time has passed since that fateful night. No one was ever charged with Chris' death. I still wonder if I could have done more? If I should have done more? Why I didn't realize how distraught he really was? How much danger he was in? And what extent would this young woman's father go with his political influence to protect her? The whole thing happened about six hours away from where I lived. My husband would get in a terrible state if I didn't visit him daily. And I didn't know what evil and corruption I was up against because of this young woman's father. Chris died because of her. Chris never got any justice. This has been a very bitter pill to swallow. I am sure many of you can sadly relate.
I would say I was in a fog for several years. I could not listen to any music in the house because it reminded me of Chris playing the guitar. It took one to two years to get over that. I was also in a fog because of all the morphine I was taking due to the pain of my radical cancer surgery and a previous cervical fusion. I was taking the morphine as it was prescribed. I eventually had to conclude on my own that this was a very high and unsustainable amount of morphine. It frightened me. This cancer hospital knew about managing pain, but nothing about addiction.
After prayer, I found a drug rehab center in the yellow pages. Who knew they had phone books in heaven? To make a long story short, I checked myself into drug rehab in Palm Beach Florida for a month. I was astounded to learn that I had the equivalent of a $200 dollar a day heroin habit. This upset me. I called the hospital pain clinic to inform them of my situation. My primary care physician was very angry. In every letter the Pain Clinic sent him, they reported I was doing well on the medication and showed no signs of abuse. Well, I wasn't abusing it, but I was still addicted.
I will just say, my drug rehab was a very profound experience. I became addicted and it opened up a whole new learning experience. I knew nothing about addiction lifestyles and this whole new world. I thanked God that I had had a life and would not be returning to a world where all my associates would be doing drugs. This saved me from a life of destruction. I also realized, that addiction is a symptom of a deeper psychological problem or trauma. Which is why people relapse. Because by the time addicts come to this realization, they are out of treatment time---usually 28 to 30 days. When insurance runs out, addicts are suddenly "cured." Nothing could be farther from the truth.
I think the drug rehab experience brought me to the point of accepting what had happened to Chris. That I was powerless to change the events of what happened. That it is not possible to control the actions of an adult child. That a parent could intervene, but control and decisions are up to our adult children. I came to a point of acceptance. This may seem impossible to many of you at this time. But we have to come to terms with what has happened. We have to work through the the guilt and anger to come to acceptance.
Acceptance is the key to moving forward on the very challenging grief journey. No amount of guilt and anger will bring our children back. What guilt and anger does is destroy us as parents, as a person, as a spouse, as a parent to our living children and all the others living around us. We have to take a look and see who and what we have left in our lives. This does not negate the absence of our deceased children, but it allows us to keep living. This is a conscious choice and decision all of us must make: destruction or a life. It is not an easy decision. It is not an easy path back to a life. We must way our alternatives.
Acceptance helped my guilt and anger. But I still wonder what I might have done differently. But the difference is now I can live with these questions without overwhelming, even destructive, feelings of guilt and anger. I have prayed to Chris to forgive my shortcomings as a parent. I know he has. Chris knows above all things, he was always loved and we were there for him as parents. That is all we can possibly do in our human existence.
I see this young woman's picture on facebook. She has not aged well. She looks like she is abusing alcohol. That would not surprise me. God forgive me, I take a perverse pleasure in seeing how she went from a very pretty young woman to a puffy faced, overweight, middle-aged woman. She is unrecognizable from who she once was. I suppose secrets, evil and lies can do that to a person. I messaged her on facebook and advised her she needed to get her life right with God. Frankly, I believe she has suffered because she knows what she did resulted in Chris' death. IMO, she deserves to suffer for her lack of remorse.
I don't know if I have forgiven her, but I am not the one who needs to forgive her. God does. Which is what I told her. She has escaped earthly justice. No one escapes divine justice. She should bear the guilt, not me.
Serenity Prayer: God give me the courage to change the things I can. To accept the things I cannot change. And the wisdom to know the difference.
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