A few days ago, my soon to be five year old son had an accident. He was racing along on his bike when the tyre knocked a rock and he fell face first onto the concrete. I didn’t see it happen, but I could tell by the pitch of his cries as he came through the door, that it was serious. Sure enough, a few seconds later, he was walking towards me through the hallway bleeding from the mouth. I checked his teeth which thankfully appeared to be intact and stable. Next, I curled back his top lip to reveal a large gash. This confirmed my fear that his top teeth had gone through his lip. I realised I would need to get him to accident and emergency to check whether he needed stitches.
As I bundled him into the car, he was still crying. Gradually, the movement of the car and the distance from the incident itself seemed to calm him. Just then he spoke to me through his gulping breaths and diminishing tears. ‘Mummy, I don’t want to stay’. At first I didn’t grasp what he was saying. ‘You won’t leave me in the hospital?’ he asked searchingly. ‘Of course Mummy won’t leave you’, I replied. He looked at my eyes reflected back at him in the rear view mirror. ‘But will you leave me if I die?’.
In that second, I was transported back to an image of me leaving hospital on the morning my husband died. Incidentally, the same hospital I was travelling to now. My sons words had triggered a traumatic memory and feelings of what? Guilt? As I left hospital that morning at 5am, my feet had felt like lead. I remembered the despair in the nurses eyes who had been present, as I thanked her for all she had done. I remembered the silence of the early morning outside and how disquieting it felt. In that moment, I had to fight the urge to run back to him and never let him go.
There are so many aspects of that morning that stay with me, even now, three years on. A part of the trauma for me will always be how little time I spent with him afterwards. Looking back, I felt ushered out of the door as if this was the right thing to do. I had spent part of a lifetime with this man. What was another hour holding his hand? In the months afterwards, I berated myself for so many things. I should have advocated for myself more. I should have spoken up and not cared so much about what other people thought. What if I had done this or that? Could I have altered the outcome? On and on it went round in my head. I berated him too. How could he die and leave me alone with our three children? My anger and criticism of myself, of him and the situation we now found ourselves in was cathartic. It was also avoidant and protective. In my view, grief is a sophisticated protector of the psyche. It offers up to us just enough of our new reality, until we move on to a new phase and can cope with a little more.
Three years on, I feel I can now cope with more. Some work I have been doing recently got me thinking of how far I’ve come since then. This work has got me thinking about forgiveness and blame. The truth is, there is no blame to apportion here. Not with life or the universe. Not with him. And not with me. It doesn’t mean than any of it is okay. It’s not. But now I’ve got to this place where I can say I forgive it all and mean it, I am free.
I would invite you to ask yourself where you are holding on to the past. Berating yourself or others and perhaps unwilling to forgive. There comes a point where the cost of maintaining that position outweighs being justified in your anger. Forgiveness does not mean it was all ok. It simply means that it was, but that freedom is the most important choice you can make for your future joy and happiness.
Back in the car driving my son to hospital, I looked at his fearful little face. In that moment, I felt so very grateful to be there and able to comfort and reassure him. I calmly promised I wouldn’t leave him and told him that he was not going to die. ‘Okay’, he replied.