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.”
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.