I looked up “survivor’s guilt” to see just what it meant. There are a list of symptoms that together sound pretty ominous. I have had a few of those feelings though I think mine are mainly attached to a bit of depression. I have watched my husband and daughter fairly closely and I think their sadness appropriate, their depression abating a bit. It washes in every now and again like a wave, trying to sweep you off your feet, drag you under, make you ineffective and lethargic.
You feel guilty, as the parent of a young adult, that you are still alive and that your child will never experience the years you have. With our son I think about the accolades he has received for his work in Philosophy and I mourn the things he might have done with his education with time. There are places that he longed to go, heights he longed to physically climb. He was dating again and though I never met but one of the ladies he dated I had hopes he would find a mate one day and enjoy the perils relationship brings. I have hope that my daughter will have children and though our son said he would not choose to father children, I regret the loss of him for the sake of any grandchildren we are blessed with.
The fact, the reality is that life goes on. The gap formed slowly closes, the edges erode. I had a pregnancy miscarry between my son and daughter. At the time it was traumatic. I had a vision of who this child would be having had one child already. I mourned my loss and wondered if I would be brave enough to try again. We did, and we have our beautiful daughter. My life filled with taking care of a baby and a three year old. With the loss of my son this is a 29 year gap I am looking at here. Twenty nine years of my life too, spent being an ardent fan of a wonderful person. I think the Grand Canyon looks small compared to this chasm. Life however will go on with or without me in attendance as it is going on without him. I think about my son and know that he would have me be present and accounted for even though he cannot be.
Simultaneously during twenty six of those years, we were also raising a daughter, and she is nothing to sneeze at. I would need to start a whole new blog to expound on the wonders of my daughter. Her brother had hopes and expectations for her too, and for their dad. Sitting in a puddle all the time, plucking at the few earthly items that remain does not honor our son.
I work through all this trying to make sense of it. Trying to find my footing for the day, on a trail that is totally without a map or precedent for me.
When my son or daughter is home, I confess, I am the world’s worst for dropping everything else in my life and paying attention to only them. I am like a moth to flame. Our son knew this about me, sensed it, played it for all it was worth. He could pry me away from any activity or plan. I was putty in his hands. When my daughter arrives I want to be with her every minute, I want to soak up her smell and watch her beautiful hands. I am smitten by my children. If they are indeed a gift, then I am a most appreciative recipient.
It was a good thing that our visits with our son were usually only a few days, because with him here, I got nothing done, but spend time with him. Now, for that time, I am most grateful in hindsight.
My guilt stems from my fear of the future, when I know my son would not have me be fearful. He would have his dad and I travel, but I use my fear of flying as an excuse to not venture out. He would have me go hiking, but I claim a fear of twisting my ankle, re-injuring my hip. I feel guilty that I can go.He cannot go. I will not go. There is the guilt- that I have survived and could, he is gone and cannot.
People say, “it is too fresh, too raw, take your time.” How much time do I have? I would have said three and half months ago that my son had all the time in the world.
I borrowed courage from my son, and now from my daughter. I admit it. I am a fearful person, and unfortunately circumstance would stand to prove my fear’s justified. Life is not safe. Control is an illusion. Danger is real.
When my son went climbing that morning it was the most normal of things for him to do. He knew the risks of this activity and had voiced them to me often. Perhaps it was a way of facing his own fear. I do not think he ever actually expected to fall. He was operating with as much care and safety as he could. We will never know exactly what happened.
I get in my car and drive to the grocery store. We drove five hours to another city the other day. The risk I face on the road from my house each day that I venture out is statistically fraught with more danger than he faced. Yet I go out anyway.
I will work on my fear, because it is a great source of guilt for me. What am I afraid of? That I will die? I will die, eventually. One way or another, expected or unexpectedly. Do I waste the few days I have or do I pluck up my courage and venture out, tipping my hat to him as I pass, celebrating in memory the joy he took at such endeavors? He would have me be who I am, to the extent of my ability, and nothing less.
Dear son, you told me once you stood high upon a ledge, the earth swept far and below you.
Your heart beat hard within your chest and fear crept up your spine.
You stood a moment, drawing in a faltering breath and wondered what possessed you,
to choose this feat, attempting this great climb.
But then you turned and faced the wall behind you, your fingers found their hold
the chalk assured your grip
you turned away from the yawning fear-filled vista, your feet found purchase
your placement did not slip.
You gained in time and strain the summit
You stood and breathed atop victorious air.
It is in times of sorrow that I picture this
and wish that I had come to stand and join you there.
For it is there and now I see you always and forever,
Your face turned bright and shining as the sun,
To leave your fears and mine down in the valley
and look to all the summits to be won.