I can’t sleep…my mind can’t seem to quiet tonight. Will and I went to bed and I felt completely fine. He fell asleep pretty fast, and I was just listening to the purrs of the cat. I don’t remember what exactly I was thinking about while trying to fall asleep, but it was ordinary, normal thoughts.
Out of nowhere, my thoughts turned to Brandon and his death. That’s how it happens, sometimes – like snapping your fingers. One minute I’m 100% okay and living life, the next minute I’m back in that night, walking into the house and finding him, then all those terrible months afterwards, where I felt half dead, in so much pain, and so so lonely and terrified. Grief…gotta love the way it pulls you under the water some days. Even 4 years into this journey, I’m still amazed at how quickly and acutely I can go back to feeling all those early, aching, sharp pains, as if they happened yesterday. The mind really doesn’t like to forget, does it?
The predominant thoughts I have tonight are of regret. I don’t know why, but I started making a mental list of everything I wish I could say to Brandon today…mostly all the things I’m so damn sorry for. It goes something like this:
- I’m sorry for not taking your alcoholism more seriously. In fact, I’m so damn sorry I didn’t even realize you had as big of a problem as you did. I will always regret the stupid early 20’s Val that just didn’t understand your demons when it came to alcohol.
- I’m sorry for not pushing for us to live on our own, and not rent from your family. I knew being at their beck and call stressed you out and you hated being constantly asked to do things. It was the easier choice for us financially, but I’m so scared that living there somehow played into your death.
- I’m sorry I wasn’t better to you. I should have taken care of you more, done more things for you. That leads directly into:
- I’m sorry I was selfish with my time. I didn’t have a lot of free time between work and school, but I should have taken some of my free time to do things you wanted to, like going to visit your brother or do those 5K runs. It was selfish of me to always want to stay at home when I had any free time. The week you died we actually had that argument about going to see your brother that weekend, but I didn’t want to go out of town and do all that traveling with only 2 days off. You were so mad, and I was so uncompromising. Then Friday night you were dead. I will always hate myself for that, for not compromising with you more. You always wanted me to come with you to the St. Patty’s day runs, but I always said no because of my knee pain. I should have gone and just walked, or looked into physical therapy (because hey, come to find out, with 6 months of PT, I’m able to run now….how shitty does that make me feel for saying no to you all those years? I can’t even begin to dig into that bottomless pit of regret.) I’m so damned sorry for not doing more of the things you wanted to do. It was selfish behavior and I will never forgive myself.
- I’m sorry I didn’t say “I love you” for 5 years. It was stupid. I was stupid. You never said it, and I never said it, and somehow I got it in my mind that the guy should be the first to say it, because I said it first to my ex, and that turned out shitty, so the stupid 18 year old me decided that I’d never say it first again. I’m sorry. I loved you very early on…I should have said it. I know you were weird and awkward with it, too, because of your own reasons (reasons you never shared, but that’s a whole other thing). I should have swallowed my stupid pride and told you I loved you for years, not just the 5 weeks we got to say it to each other. I hope you knew how loved you were. What if that made a difference in your death? I’ll never know and I’ll never forgive myself.
- I’m sorry I didn’t tell you how great you were more often. I should have pointed out your good qualities so much more than I did…even though you never talked about it, I had a feeling that your confidence wasn’t all that high, and I should have built you up more.
- I’m sorry I accepted your avoidance when it came to talking about your past, your issues, or your feelings in general. It didn’t occur to me until after you died and I met Will, but how little you were willing to talk about anything personal was not normal. I should have seen that and pushed you to open up more. Maybe that would have made a difference in the end.
Those 7 things are what my mind was whispering about (I’m sure given some time to sit and think, I can come up with a good bit more things I’m sorry about, but for tonight’s purposes, this will have to do). Having gotten it out on paper, it’s a bit daunting. The list of things I should have done better feels very large, being laid out on paper like that, like a drifting continent of regret. It makes me wonder how large a part I played into Brandon’s suicide…and maybe it’s just me, but it feels like if I had done any of those things differently, maybe he’d have been happier and more fulfilled, maybe less troubled and broken. I can’t shake the feeling that I messed up, so much, when it came to our relationship. It’s a terribly lonely and painful feeling. I should have been a much more empathetic and aware partner to him.
I know hindsight is a unfair mistress, and it’s easy to look back knowing what you know today, and pin point where it all went wrong. Thanks to a lot of money and therapy, I know the Val from the ages of 18-23 made the best choices she knew to make with the information she had at the time. I know that, logically. In my mind, I know that. But why do I still sit here, unable to sleep at 1am, drowning under a blanket of regrets and what if’s?
Sometimes I feel like all I’ve gotten out of therapy are a handful of phrases to chant to myself while the grief waves hit and I try to desperately keep my mind and body from another panic attack:
“You did the best you could with the information you had at the time.”
“It wasn’t your fault, you didn’t’ hold the gun and pull the trigger.”
“This happening a second time is possible, but improbable.”
“Don’t stress out about things you have no control over.”
At the end of the day, though, they are just phrases. While I know there is truth behind them, they do so very little to lift the massive boulder of regret and anxiety grief sometimes puts on me. Maybe I should seek out more therapy and see how many new phrases I can acquire? It can be like a video game: want to stop yourself from having a panic attack because of something related to the grief of your dead husband? Want to stop feeling responsible for his death? See therapist after therapist and collect helpful and insightful grief phrases…gotta catch ‘em all!
I know, I’m lame.
Another predominant thought tonight is how that night could have not happened, if I had only done any of the many, many little things differently that day. If I invited him to dinner with me and my dad, he wouldn’t have been sitting alone at home, getting drunk, and then going to the gun cabinet and getting out the glock. If my dad and I picked somewhere other than Outback to eat, it wouldn’t have been so busy on a Friday night, our wait would have been shorter, and I would have gotten home hours earlier (again, preventing Brandon’s death). If I didn’t stop to chit chat at his house for the 20-30 minutes after dinner and headed straight home, I would have gotten there before he died. If I called Brandon on my way home, maybe that could have changed something.
I know the “what if” game is not a game that’s helpful or wise to play, but that’s where I am tonight, sitting here playing a game I cannot win. It’s terrible to know that something so little going differently could have changed the way that night ended. If any of the above happened, I would have come home, Brandon would have greeted me with one of his hugs in the hallway, and we would have resumed our normal life. Instead, I came home to a nightmare.
I guess the theme of today is: hindsight.