This is what my world has felt like for much of the last year. It has felt as if I was in a constant state fog….situations and life, in general, have been covered with this confusing and murky vapor. It has allowed me to see, but only with blurred vision. While objects have been visible, it’s been hard to clearly recognize and discern what’s in front of me. Light shines through the haze, but the reflection produced creates a glare that makes it even harder to see and to migrate through the chaos. But notice….even the light shines through the haze, illuminating a hope that at some point, the way will be made clear and transparent.
Grief will propel you into this fog with no way out and will paralyze you with fear, doubt, anger, and regret. Fear manifests itself in many forms, but for me the strongest fear I have experienced and continue to face is the angst that my son will be forgotten. The mere thought that someone you loved with your entire being will be dismissed from the minds of others is overwhelmingly fearful. Grief not only leaves you fearful, but will manufacture doubt and will make you question values and tenets once held close to your heart. It’s a devastating experience that will shake you to your core and will only exacerbate the fear deep within your heart. This doubt and fear will spawn an anger that is unprecedented….one like you have never encountered before…anger that the world continues to revolve without your child and that life continues on for others as you are experiencing the worst pain imaginable. As you continue through the unpredictable maze of grief, one of the most destructive and damaging emotions that will creep upon you unaware is regret. Regret, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Regret means that you can feel remorse for past wrongs….that you can reflect upon the mistakes you’ve made and learn from the err of your ways…and it means that you can admit that you, like all of humanity, make mistakes. This isn’t the regret I’m referring to. The kind of regret im referring to is a crippling anguish that leaves you burdened beyond words. One that makes you play a dangerous game with the words, ” What if?” “What if” makes you question and feel guilt for decisions, actions, or words spoken that can’t be changed….for the failures in our relationships with our deceased loved ones. This isn’t necessarily bad either, but often what happens is that these feelings begin to consume the mind, torturing and debilitating those left to grieve not only with the death itself, but with the ideation that a change in our responses or actions could have prevented their death. So, we begin to long for the impossible in an effort to change the outcome. From my experience, this type of regret has been detrimental and has sucked me into a deep and menacing black hole.
As I think about this type of regret, I am reminded of the biblical story of Lot’s wife. In this story, Lot and his family found favor in the sight of the Lord for their obedience to His word and were given the opportunity to escape the inevitable fate of the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. The command given to them was to flee the city as quickly as possible….and oh yeah….they were given explicit instructions to not stop or look back as they were running. The problem came when Lot’s wife, of course, did the forbidden and looked back. As a result, she was turned into a pillar of salt. Now, there are many people that are more scholarly than I ever have been and have given this story deep thought and have looked at the meaning of the original words used in this portion of the Bible. And they might disagree with me on my interpretation of this story and its application to our lives, but that’s what’s so great about our country…. we have the right to our opinions. So, I’m going to share with you my thinking about this text and its importance on the subject of regret. I think that Lots wife looked back at Sodom and Gomorrah with the type of regret that makes you long for your old life even though the outcome couldn’t have possibly changed. For the most part, this story is linked to the inability to let go of sin in our lives and the nature of human beings to want continue to live in sin without consequences. I agree with that, but I’m looking at this with a different perspective. Lot’s wife didn’t really want to leave her city, because even in its moral depravity, it was home and her dupaghters chose not to leave. She probably looked back to her home with the same thoughts the grieving experience….” What if….I should have, I could have….if only”….So naturally she regrets leaving (possibly because of her daughters)and looks back longingly. It is this one act that has an immediate consequence…she is turned into a pillar of salt. I find that fascinating and find it to touch upon the subject of regret. The bitterness of having to leave her home turned her into a mineral that was used to preserve things in her day. Also, salt, in appropriate amounts, can add a favorable flavor to our foods, but too much of it makes our sustenance almost bitter and unable consume. So, the fact that she was turned into a pillar of salt is seems appropriate….some have said that she was consumed in a layer of salt that preserved her body as it was….making her a literal pillar that would be an example to others. Others say that she actually dissipated into a pillar of salt. Despite how you perceive this part of the text, Lot’s wife was reduced to salt in some way. This makes me think back to the debilitating grief that is caused by regret…..looking back on our past with a longing to change our responses to situations in an effort to change the outcome of our loved ones. This thinking implies that if we had acted differently, then the circumstances would have changed and we might not be dealing with our loss. Now, I’m not saying that we are going to be turned into a literal pillar of salt for feeling regret. But what I am saying is that the longing to change things that cannot be changed almost metaphorically changes us into a pillar of salt. We develop bitterness that we can’t change our situation. We also develop deep a depression from the guilt of our regrets that leaves us fruitless and stuck….which in a sense is like being turned into salt….too much salt preserves,and keeps us in that preserved state…..and not moving through our situation or our grief. We are stopped and paralyzed by the guilt and regret we feel.
So what am I learning to do? Let go of some of the regret….maybe not all, but some. For the first few months I was consumed with my guilt and with all of the things I should have done differently. Finally after several months, I reaized how destructive this was to my ability to move through my grief. If I continue to live in this valley of regret, I am going to live in such a deep, dark hole that will help no one….me, my daughter, my sister-in-law, my nephews, my mom and dad. In order to move through this most devastating loss, I can’t focus on what I could have done. Instead, I MUST focus on what I did do that was right or was my best decision at the time. This will allow me to find God’s will for me even in this tragedy. I know He has a will for me in this loss…..I just have to find it through His guidance.
Recently, I have experienced some lifting of the fog which I can only attribute to prayer. In the past two weeks, some of the burdens weighing on my heart have been lifted for a season. How is that you might ask…I’ve had some pretty strong prayer warriors praying for me and my daughter. Since those prayers began, I have felt a lift in the fog since early last week. That’s a welcome relief. Please don’t take that negatively, but I have been able to, for the first time in a year, experience some peace in my grief. I think I am beginning to move through the grief now…now that I can let go of the blame, the guilt and the what ifs. If you or someone you know has lost a child, mother, father, brother, sister, please think about how you will support their grief. Stay away from terms and people that like to use this terminology:
* “I would have done things differently.” – most of us say this, but we don’t know what we would have done in thes exact same situations.
* “I don’t think that your decision to _________________didnt help him/her.” This implies that if we had made a different decision in this circumstance, that it would have altered to final outcome.
*”____________ didn’t feel loved.” How do you know that….and did they feel loved by others?
If you are experiencing this type of regret and it is paralyzingly you in your ability to move through our grief…ask yourself these questions:
How would the outcome have changed even if I could have____________?
How is my regret hindering my ability move through my grief?
Label it…..what emotions are hindering your thinking? How are they keeping you trapped in your current state of depression or you current state of guilt and blame?
What I have to says to you is this…..there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. And that light will bring a warmth and a peace that has been long awaited. Will there be set backs….of course there will be. There will be holidays, anniversaries, and milestones that will spiral us back into that hole of depression, but I’m hoping that the amount of time spent there will grow less and less….only time will tell. But the good thing for me know is that I have experienced hope out of the darkness….and you can too.
Please don’t hesituate to leave me a message if you would like to discuss where you are in your grief.
In honor of:
Aaron and Taylor Langford
Katie and Sarah Maples
Barbara And Richard Brown
Zach and Jeremy Brown