|Posted by Michelle Rutz on May 11, 2020 at 4:00 PM|
Regrets...I've had a few…a few?
Really?...only a few?
I am a four on the Enneagram…
an INFJ on the Myers Briggs…
usually all I can see are my regrets.
And yet, paradoxically,
when I look at the old home movies I had digitized online at Costco,
I happy cry at the nostalgia of my then young children, now grown,
and how they had such a happy childhood-
how we did it “right.”
Conversely, I may just as easily awake at 2:59 am in a cold sweat
my mind starts racing
how I have completely and utterly ruined my children’s lives
by immature and unwise decisions raising them,
and how I got married too young -
yada, yada, yada...Spin, spin spin my thoughts.
You may relate, and know how these thoughts are generally unfounded
and when we awake from a night of head spinning,
we realize in the light of morning that
all really is WELL with the world.
The baby is sleeping peacefully in the crib,
the teenager returns at curfew
and the adult child is happily married, employed and visits for Christmas.
And in my own case this is true….
with one major exception….
one of my four grown children is NOT ok.
He is not coming home for Christmas this year
or any year in the future
because he is dead…
died of mental illness at the age of 21 in early 2012.
Yeah, I have a few regrets.
A few wrestlings with hindsight over the past almost seven years.
The night we learned of his death,
in complete shock…
all I could mutter was
“this doesn't happen in families like ours”
I was an elementary Montessori teacher
instructing love and peace...along with fractions.
Married 27 years, albeit with the usual marital challenges of two people
who married young and had to figure out how to grow up together.
Faith filled, my son was,
the always smiling heart of the family,
the easy child,
with no major childhood issues or trauma.
But he was also an adventure seeker,
always thinking outside the box -
so much so that we did not see it-
the irrational thinking,
the impulsive behavior,
the bouts of depression mingled with
short lived episodes of manic impulsivity,
I had just left teaching to begin coursework towards
a doctorate in clinical psychology
to help children who have experienced trauma,
but I hadn't taken the class yet on abnormal psychology.
I did not yet know that bipolar
most often appears at about the age of 19
and commonly goes undetected or misdiagnosed.
I did not yet know that bipolar disorder is
considered the cancer of mental illness,
that 20 percent of people with bipolar disorder die by suicide.
I did not know anyone who had a child die by suicide…
I thought it only happened to spoiled, neglected movie stars’ kids,
kids from messed up homes
Kids who were not given the love and resiliency skill set
that my own children were given.
I did not yet know that suicide as an organic mental illness
is a neurological disorder.
I did not yet know that the experience of having a child die by suicide
is considered by the American Psychological Association to be
the equivalent of having survived the holocaust.
Yea, regrets...I have a few.
And in hindsight,
I can see how my beautiful loving son was struggling.
How he may have been helped with therapy or meds
I will never know.
I will never know
if he had lived,
if he would have been so ill
and in so much pain
that his living would have been miserable-
not just for him,
but for us those who loved him
to watch him struggle with a broken brain which betrayed him.
I will never know
if he might have responded
to some of the ever-growing successful treatments
and lived a full enriching life.
I now know of other families like mine.
Families whose young adult children
were raised in loving intact families
and also died of mental illness.
Children who did receive therapy and medications,
but still died.
Parents of those who did receive help,
but still wondered
if there was something more they could have done.
We know these children.
We know their death was not a rational choice-
these were intelligent,
who stole our hearts.
Yet, they got sick-
not noble sick,
like with leukemia which attacks the bloodstream,
but with a brain which developed abnormally
and caused their perceptions of the world and themselves to be distorted.
And if only, there was a “cure”-
if only every time a young person got mentally sick,
we could see it,
put them in a machine to know where the brain was broken
and then write a prescription to fix it-
then maybe no one would ever die by suicide again.
But maybe not.
Hindsight offers no guarantees in this case.
The “if onlys” and “woulda, shoulda, couldas”
will drown you and
take your life from you.
Hindsight is best covered in grace-
lots and lots and lots of grace.
Grace to accept that
if they were meant to still be with us, then they would be.
Grace to know that we did everything
to love them while they were here.
Grace to know they loved us
and they knew they were loved.
Grace to know
we cannot control our world.
Grace to know
if bad things can happen in this world,
then good things can happen too.
Looking back on those days of desperate survival -
on just how to make it through the day,
let alone the days weeks years to follow,
It seemed unbearable
that I would have to live with this
It wasn't going to go away.
In fact, the fallout in our family for the next several years
made survival even harder.
The one piece of hope I clung to
which pulled me through
was, and continues to be,
my quest to make meaning out of tragedy.
To create a healing space
for other families devastated by child loss
to retreat from the world around
which goes on so seamlessly,
so callous to our internal explosion of pain.
Giving comfort to others-
one of the grace gifts of hindsight,
redeeming the regret of
my son’s otherwise meaningless death.
Hindsight provides all these graces.
But perhaps the greatest grace…
the greatest gift hindsight provides is
to live every moment to the fullest,
to appreciate those in your lives,
to know the brevity of our days
and to not make undone dishes a giant argument.
remember to say I love you
every time you say goodbye,
because after you have looked back over
the good, the bad and ugly of life,
love really is all that remains.
My son composed a book two years before his death.
In it he penned these words which reveal
the greatest lesson hindsight has brought me……
“Let them know they are loved.”