Erasing The Guilt…

Isaiah 57 1-2

Guilt implies that a person has committed a sin or an act of transgression. But, we also tend to use the word to imply a state in which we wish we could have done more.  It’s a word I’ve heard frequently since Jason’s death, and one that I never really can provide a solution for.  Each person I spoke with after Jason’s death seemed to have some form of guilt: “if only I would have talked to him one more time,” “maybe I should have forgave him,” “what if I had been here instead.”  In living through 8 months of grieving and watching others grieve around me, one thing I am familiar with is guilt.

And the people around me aren’t the only ones wrestling with their own guilt.  The night Jason was hit, my cell phone wasn’t working properly, and I was anxious to get to the store to have it fixed before too much of Jason’s shift had passed.  As an officer’s wife, I hated being without a form of communication, especially on the nights he worked.  And, in my rush, I decided to leave for the store before Jason left for work.  In my mind, I would have the phone fixed before he started his shift, and all would be well in the world of an officer and his wife. I hugged him, kissed him, told him to come back to me. Instead of his normal “always,” I heard, “I’ll try.”  I hated that answer, but I didn’t really press it. Instead I left for the store to get my phone fixed.

The last message I remember sending Jason was something to the extent of,” yay, my phone is finally fixed. Hope to ACTUALLY get to hear from you at some point tonight. Love you and stay safe.”  Of course, no reply – I didn’t really expect one.  It was the first week of summer vacation, and they were already busy.  That night, I laid down to bed and forgot to turn my phone on loud, and because of that, I slept through 22 straight phone calls, and was awoken by a knock on the door.

And while logically, I know there is no reason to feel any guilt associated with my early departure, or my decision to let the, “I’ll try,” comment go, it didn’t matter.  The guilt was still present, and it ate away at me in the hours when I attempted to sleep at night.  I know that staying longer, never leaving, forcing him to reply with, “always,” wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but as humans when tragedy results in the loss of life, we always associate the feeling of wishing we could have done more with guilt.

In reality, I guess it’s the closest word we can find to describe how we truly feel.  The feeling that had we known the events of the night, we would have done everything possible to change them, to alter them, and to never have to live through a sleepless night of “what ifs.”  Yet, we know all of the impossibilities associated with that wish, and so, we describe how we feel as guilt.

And with guilt comes confession: the need for someone else to “forgive you.”  However, in Jason’s situation there isn’t anything to forgive.  We feel this “guilt” because we struggle with outcomes outside of our own control.  The events of June 14th and 15th were outside of our control the moment Jason checked in route to the call.  Even so, I spent a considerable time replaying the last conversation we had, wishing I wouldn’t have left so early, and begging for forgiveness, although in reality none was actually needed.

In one of my 3 am wide awake moments, I was debating in my mind of starting this blog, following what I felt was my calling, and I was providing God with many reasons I was undeserving of this calling, and why all of these thoughts and feelings should remain in my own mind.  I admitted how scared I was to share them, and how vulnerable I felt I would be.  I’ve written before about the dreams I had concerning starting the blog and the organization.  And, I struggled because I allowed my guilt to cause me to feel unworthy of my calling.   Actually, I still do that.  I still struggle with the unworthy feeling, and the admission that Jason’s death caused me to be a better person.

And, so when people admit their “guilt” to me, I often times clam up.  I provide generic answers, and I  don’t really know how to tell them to erase their “guilt.” I tell them it’s not merited; I remind them I’m not angry; I tell them I understand nothing I say will erase it, because I do understand that.  I understand it on a level few actually can.  I understand that no human can take away that guilt, and they can’t provide you a feeling of peace.  And every time I walk away from one of those conversations I’m secretly grateful that I’m not alone, but I’m upset with myself for my inability to say more.  I want to scream my feelings of guilt to them, and I want my feelings to erase their feelings; yet, it never happens that way.

Nothing anyone says to me erases mine; it’s still here, although it’s smaller and a little easier to manage.  It has less of a hold on my daily life, but it still haunts me each time I blog.  Blogging is therapy, but it’s also my reminder that my calling in life changed when my husband died…and then there’s that guilt again.  Yet, it’s lessened, and here’s why:

“Good people pass away;
the godly often die before their time.

No one seems to understand that

God is protecting them from the evil to come.

For those who follow godly paths

Will rest in peace when they die.”

Isaiah 57:1-2

Jason’s death had nothing to do with anything any of us could have done or actually did that night.  It wasn’t because of our actions; it was because of God’s.  And while at first that might make a person angry at God – it did me.  In the end, I have to trust that Jason’s death was part of God’s bigger picture for my life and all those who were present at the scene, the hospital, the funeral home, and even now in our lives.

Jason’s death has brought with it so many supportive, understanding, and caring brothers and sisters in my life.  And experiencing his death is part of God’s plan for their lives as well.  As difficult as that is to accept, just as accepting Jason’s death has allowed for me to finally get the chance to follow my own calling, I firmly believe we all have a choice after Jason’s.  A choice of how it is going to impact the remainder of our lives.  For some, maybe that means their calling changed – just like mine.  For others maybe it means they change for the better.  And still others, maybe it means they start actually living life.  But the point remains, Jason’s death was part of the plan in our lives, and how will we use that to change our lives for the better? Or better yet, how will we use it to change another’s life for the better?

And while I would love to erase that “self- imposed guilt” from your mind, the reality is, I can’t.  But, God can.  Jason’s death caused many to evaluate their lives, and I pray it is causing many to somehow better their own.  And, maybe the guilt will still be a battle we all fight in our own ways, but you can’t allow it to rob you of your happiness, your calling, and your contribution to other’s lives.  Allowing it to win, means we are yet another victim.

So, while I may not be able to tell you these things in person. While I can’t look you in the eye and admit my own guilt, or tell you how to erase yours.  I can use my calling, my talent, and my words here to hopefully reach into your heart, and remind you that you aren’t alone in your “guilt,” and that together, we need to make sure we use Jason’s death to somehow better our own lives and those around us.

As I continue to follow my calling, create a support group for officer’s wives, and hopefully find the courage to fulfill a few more portions of my calling, I pray that my words resonate in the hearts of my brothers and sisters who have stood by me from day one.  I pray that they too pray for me – that they pray I won’t allow my guilt to win, and that I will continue to follow my calling.  Please know, that whichever way you chose to allow Jason’s death to change your life, I’ll support, but I pray that you find the courage to follow whatever calling it has set in motion in your life.

And in the end, please know:

“The heart of the man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9.

While your path towards your calling my cause you to wander, I think it is safe to say that “all who wonder are not lost.”  Don’t allow your guilt to cause you to lose your way.  Fight it, and instead as you wander, make sure you impact the lives of others around you.  I assure you, that you’ve already impacted mine.

Merging “before” with “after”: A New Meaning of “O Holy Night”

Before and after- prepositional phrases usually utilized to indicate when an event took place. Useful in indicating passage of time.
Words that find themselves frequently used in the English language, small and seemingly insignificant, lost among the eloquent and more grandiose words; yet, vital just the same.
Words that have never had a profound effect upon my life until six months ago. In the world of traumatic loss and grieving, life is seemingly defined as “before,” “the event/loss,” and “after.” When writing those three categories, it seems fairly easy. Each part of your life becomes neatly tucked into one of those three categories. If all the events of your life become tucked into categories, and there are no loose ends, everything will be okay. Well, that’s just simply wrong. Yes, chronologically, I can place events into the one of the three categories: “before J’s death,” “the time spent in the hospital,” and “after J’s death.” Chronological is simple. Every event in our lives will chronologically fit into one of these categories, and because each event will fit, we sometimes give the impression that we are continuing on with our lives in a normal fashion.
Chronologically placing the events into a category is what I like to call “head knowledge.” When we can attach a date to an event, our brain automatically places the events into chronological order. Before J’s death, my memories seemed to be organized chronologically. Meaning, memories before a certain milestone in our lives didn’t really hold more significance emotionally, than a memory after a specific milestone. Maybe you are different, but in the grand scheme of things, I relived my memories chronologically. After J passed, everything changed. Instead of each event fitting neatly into a category, lines began to blur.
As I sit and reflect on last Christmas- the traditions, the memories, and the love, I can logically tell you “those were before J passed.” Traditions of J putting together toys while he and I drank hot chocolate out of the snowman and penguin mugs we bought our first Christmas together. J eating the cookies, and writing C a special note from Santa. J griping about the coordinating pajama bottoms and shirts that I forced us each to wear. Opening our gifts together Christmas Eve, just the two of us, so that Christmas morning could be about C. J letting the dog onto the front porch so that he could have a special treat of all the reindeer food. Opening one sentimental “mushy” card and one funny one from J. If it were left to J, I would have only received the funny one. That’s the man he was, but after the first Christmas, it became established that both were necessary.  Traditions that chronologically fit into the “before J passed” category.
The problem is our “heart knowledge” blurs the chronological lines, and it causes us to have difficulty placing a tradition or a favorite memory into the “before J passed” category. I don’t want to place an event there. I don’t want to even believe that category exists some days. I want to erase it, hide it, banish it into oblivion. And because I want to obliterate the category altogether, reliving the memories that fit into the “before” category are extremely bittersweet. Placing a much loved Christmas tradition into the “before” category feels like re-living “the event” all over again. The fears, anger, resentment, sadness, anxiety all flood back in. And this happens when I least expect it. It can be caused by a song, a random Christmas sack you begin to wrap a present in, only to realize someone has written J’s name in marker on the outside. It can be caused by wrapping a gift, and thinking, “wow J would have had ‘fun’ putting that one together.” And, I find myself not ready for those moments. My mind isn’t guarded, and sadness comes flooding in. And so, when trying to place memories and traditions into categories, I find myself torn. Placing a tradition into the “before” category feels as if I’m burying it too….
If I force a tradition into the “before” category, it is more than likely because the tradition is impossible to continue because of “the event.” People offer all kinds of advice. “Continue on with all of your traditions, make J a part of Christmas still.” Well, that creates a problem. You see, in a 5 year old’s mind, daddy is in heaven, and he can’t physically be a part of our traditions. “Create brand new traditions, and leave the old ones.” Well, that feels like a betrayal all together! And, so I find myself wondering what in the world will we do for traditions on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? How will I find a balance of the before and after? How will I ensure J’s memory and his personality ring through into C’s world?
The “afters” often feel like betrayals. They feel “too soon,” “cold” and “uninviting.” They lack J’s physical presence- his laugh, his smile, his crazy hats he would make out of wrapping paper. J made Christmas fun. There is no J to help create the “afters.” There’s my memory of him, my stories I share, and my attempts to incorporate him, but there is no him. And so, creating the “afters” is hard work. It is something that I’ve been working on for well over a month. I have no way of knowing how C will react without his daddy on Christmas. In fact, I have no way of knowing how I will even react. In therapy they say, “create new memories while incorporating old traditions.” How does one do that when every single tradition had J all wrapped neatly into it? Tearing apart a tradition is almost like tearing apart a neatly wrapped gift. Try as you might, the wrapping paper never goes back together the same way again. How do I continue to honor the traditions, when a vital part of them is missing?
And, again, people have advice, and all mean well, but the reality is a tradition from “before,” rarely fits into “the after” in the same way. When a tradition from “before” merges with a tradition formed in the “after,” it brings with it a void. It never appears or feels the same, and by bringing along its void, it in some way seems to tarnish the traditions of “after.” The difference is, I control how much it tarnishes the after.
And so, as I sit writing, when I should be cleaning my house in preparation for Christmas, I am stuck. I’m rarely one to just “wing it,” but it seems as if this might be the case this Christmas. Creating “afters” is a necessity. One I wish I never had to contemplate more less experience. Creating new traditions, requires me to continually remind myself that I’m not betraying J. (Yes, I still suffer from self-imposed guilt). But, ultimately, creating “afters” is the only way to continue to move forward. To continue to walk, even at a slow pace in this marathon I’m running. Right now, it feels like a marathon ran during a hurricane, but the reality is, the “afters” are in my control. And, so we will begin the process of merging “befores” with “afters.” And in the end, we will make it through. We’ll keep walking, and new beautiful memories will be made. I’ll never escape how the “befores” tarnish the “afters.” The bitter sweetness of “before” memories are treasured in my mind, but as we approach Christmas, it becomes even more clear that in the end, the traditions we celebrate are important, and serve their place. But the celebration of Christmas is more than just about family traditions.
In the end, celebrating the birth of our Savior and His choice to walk among the flesh has no tie to “before,” or “after.” It is a welcomed event that thankfully fits into neither category. And because of its continual presence and its inability to fit into a “before” or “after,” I am blessed. Because our Savior chose to walk among the flesh, I am able to be comforted by him “before losing J,” and “after losing him.” Christ is my one and only constant that doesn’t need to fit into either category. His choice to walk among us and to be born into the flesh and to be crucified and risen again is what allows me to have peace. As new traditions are made, He calms my heart and reminds me that I’m not betraying J. As I merge old traditions into the new, He creates in me an ability to remember, cherish, but still move forward. He is why I am able to keep walking.
At the end of the day, it is comforting to know that Jesus understands the human feelings of loss, as He was once human, but that because of His resurrection, He is able to provide us comfort no human ever could. I am thankful for that “O Holy Night,” when He chose to become flesh. That night is my affirmation that I can live through this first Christmas “after” we lost J.

o holy night

Tonight I am thankful for that “O Holy Night,” and for the “younder [that] breaks [and brings with it] a new and glorious morn!”

After reading this, I ask that you say a special prayer tonight. This year would have been the first year in over 60 years that line of duty deaths were kept under 100. Sadly, the number 100 was reached today. Pray not only for these 100 families who are stuck in the limbo of before and after, but for all families who are spending their first Christmas without a loved one. Above all, pray that they too will realize that the birth and resurrection of our Savior fits into neither the “before” or “after,” and that they will allow Him to bring them comfort and reassurance in this difficult time. Please pray that they too recognize the significance of that “Holy Night”.

Mercies in Disguise

To those of you who follow regularly, you know that I frequently discuss what I have to come to feel is my calling in life after J’s death, or maybe as a result of his death.  I don’t like how that last part sounds though; I don’t like having to lose him in order to attempt to touch lives.  In fact, when I woke up this morning, I’ll be honest, I didn’t even want this to be my calling.  I spoke with a good friend about sometimes praying that this wouldn’t be my calling, that I could have an easier one.  Maybe that seems selfish, but, I’m sharing it with you anyways, because like always, my pity party leads to a blessing. You see, my reason for not wanting this to be my calling is because I want one that only allows me to suffer, and not my sweet little boy. I feel like even though I shouldn’t have to endure this experience, he should have to even less.  And, truthfully, I’ve debate TIME and TIME again about starting this movement and putting myself and my emotions out there.  I debated about whether or not people would believe in this cause, whether they would back me, and whether or not I could really honor our family’s decision to walk the line and be a part of the good in the world.  And, really, for a long time I thought it would be easier to grieve if I didn’t make it so public.  The reality is, the exact opposite is true.

Today, as I was walking through a local craft fair, I began to reminisce about the last year I attended the same fair.

How J and I had watched C’s eyes light up as he witnessed Santa appear by helicopter, as he got to sit on his lap, and walk through the crowded aisles holding our hands and pointing out toys he wanted. I also distinctly remember him wanting a VERY pricey fire truck, and J having to carry a four year old out while he was kicking and screaming about said fire truck, while I got to stand in line and wait for our pictures.  As I watched J carry C out, I remember thinking how lucky I was to have such a wonderful husband who supported me in parenting our child.  And how C was blessed because he had a daddy who required a level of behavior from him that would eventually lead to C becoming a responsible adult, even though at the time C was not appreciative of said behavioral expectations.

As I absent mindedly walked through the aisle of the same fair this year, I couldn’t help but think about how much has changed in one year for us.  And, as I was deep in thought, another officer’s wife came and introduced herself to me.  And while I’m sure she has no idea how much her words meant to me, and how much of a reminder they were, I pray she is reading this tonight.

Just as she began to speak to me, I happened to catch a small phrase of a song that was being sung.  It’s called, “Blessings” by Laura Story.  Here’s the link:

As the officer’s wife was speaking to me, I heard “What if your blessings   come through raindrops? What if your healing comes through tears?” being sung.  And, at first, I really didn’t pay much attention to the song.  I was attempting to focus on our conversation.  As we spoke, she was telling me her own story, her own trials and tribulations, and her own blessings.  And, we talked about the strength it takes to overcome those trials.  Towards the end of the conversation, she told me through teary eyes, that “you have no idea how many people God is allowing you to bless through your loss.”  Honestly, I’m not sure what the rest of the conversation was about, and that isn’t because of lack of interest. It was because I’ve been told time and time again by therapists that the grieving process never ends, but it lessens when acceptance of the event and of your future without your husband finally happens.  I’m by no means proclaiming acceptance today, but before today, I didn’t even entertain that as option in my life.  How does one finally accept such a loss?  I simply thought that this was some “therapist invented word or stage” that was meant to make me feel better in the moment.  Yet, her words struck me, as the first stage of accepting.  We lost J- that will never change. He’ll never come back.  But what is left of my life, my future, that’s where the acceptance begins.  Accepting that we are still here, and because of his loss we can bless other people. I’m not there yet, but I feel like her words planted a small seed.  A much needed one at the time.

As I walked out of the fair, I felt a need to look up the song I had heard such a tiny portion of.  And then, as I read the words to the song. I sat in my car for a long while and simply cried.  While I won’t comment on all of the lyrics, I do want to discuss a few  – the few that provided the affirmation of what the officer’s wife said to me earlier.  It seems paradoxical that I could be blessing people through my own loss.  And, really, I’m not blessing anyone, God is.

“ What if Your blessings come through rain drops? What if Your healing comes through tears?  What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near? What if the trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?”

Maybe those words don’t speak to you, but I pray they do.  I’ve always said that my life could be worse, and believe me, God shows me that frequently by others that I am destined to meet.  A new friend whose son is in a group home because of a childhood illness that left him debilitated.  The anger, the guilt, the responsibility, the sense of failure as mother.  Sometimes, I think what seems like the absolute worst situation, could be worse.  Sometimes what seems like a punishment is actually an act of mercy from an all mighty God. Maybe J’s death isn’t the worst thing that could have possibly been handed to me?  And while that seems impossible to actually believe sometimes, I do feel that we have been spared from worse.

As I immediately downloaded the song, and placed it on repeat, I played it over and over again as I was going on about my errands.  And, each time I heard it, I felt weight being lifted.  No, I didn’t want this to be my calling. I want my husband and C’s daddy back. I didn’t ask for this suffering, but in this suffering, so many blessings have fallen as raindrops. Blessings in our lives and more importantly blessings in other’s lives.  While I’m far from acceptance, the idea seems plausible, if only plausible for brief moments.  I’ve spent what seem like a thousand sleepless nights, where I felt alone.  And, yet I always rise in the morning, and in the quiet moments before C wakes, when I sit and reflect on what I need to accomplish that day, and I pray for the strength to do it, I feel far from alone.  The sleepless nights turn into mornings where I’m reminded of His love for me and His presence near me.

“We pray for wisdom.  Your voice to hear.  We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near.  We doubt Your goodness.  We doubt your love.  As if every promise from Your words is not enough.  And all the while, You hear each desperate plea, and long that we’d have faith to just believe.”

Recently in doubting my calling, I’ve had my fair share of anger.  Mainly anger that C has to endure this.  That he has to suffer, and feel such a void in his life.  And often times in my prayers, I pray that he can just have a normal life.  That more suffering be on me.  And, still, though I pray, I’ve felt anger.  I’ve sometimes doubted the promises that we are given in His word.  And, I try to have the faith to just believe.  To just feel that in the end, this is somehow a blessing in disguise.  I often times tell people that, but believing it, is much different.  Yet, today, the songs the conversation with a fellow officer’s wife, both are proof that there is a greater plan.

A plan that brings honor to our sacrifice.  A plan that hopefully instills more good in the world.  A plan that allows others to change their lives.  A plan that brings honor and glory to our Maker.  The one who time after time after time, affirms for me when I doubt my calling.  The one who reassures me when I feel like I don’t have the strength to do this, or that no one really will believe in what we are doing.  The one who has given me wonderful friends and places on their hearts the exact thing I need to hear in the moment.  The one who allows me to hear today that through my loss I’m touching lives.  Through my strength that comes from Him, I’m receiving blessings through raindrops and passing them on to all of you.

I’m no where near accepting J’s death as a part of my life. I’m not where near accepting that unfortunately we have to suffer.  But today, I’m able to remember how truly awesome our Maker is.  I’m able to remember that even though our lives are almost unbearable at times, we are still comforted by His promises.  And that our faith is at its strongest when we are choosing to believe while kneeling on our knees. Choosing to believe when it seems impossible that we’ll make it through this.  Choosing to believe that even though the grief that comes with losing J won’t ever go away, in the end, eventually, I’ll be able to see its purpose.  That while its purpose may still be in disguise, eventually, it will be revealed to me. And, I can’t help but think that starting this blog, the 31 acts of kindness, each of you and your support are affirmation of that.

Today as I was on my knees and feeling like nothing else could be worse than my life in this moment, I was ever so “gently” reminded by a friend that having faith while on your knees is a choice.  And, it’s not a one-time choice.  It’s a choice we are forced to make frequently.  Tonight, I am thankful for the timing of our God.  For Him bringing the events of today together, and for Him giving me all of you as my support system.

“What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life, is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?  What if the trials of this life, the rain, the storms, the sleepless nights are Your mercies in disguise?”

Tonight I am thankful for serving a merciful Lord, who is my strength, comfort, and reminder of the greater days to come.  My reminder that even though my life is hard, He is sparing me from much worse.  And tonight dear friends, I’m able to see that and believe it, if only for a moment. Tonight I am thankful for a promise of a life beyond this one. A life I know in my heart J is enjoying, and that someday we will too.  Until then, I pray God keeps affirming to me through all of you, that I have a greater calling on this earth, and that hopefully our sacrifice can become a part of the greater good.

I pray whatever trials and tribulations that are present in your life today, you too can feel Him near.  And that if you find yourself on your knees, that you too make the choice to be faithful, and that you continue to make that choice to believe that sometimes blessings come through raindrops.