By Chaplain John T. Catrett, III
If only I had gone there…if only I hadn’t spoken those words…if only I had taken a different route…if only I had listened to my own instincts…
“If only” and all the words of regret that follow, are scattered across a trail of shattered dreams, of broken hearts. We use them as we search for how we might have altered an incomprehensible outcome; a loss we simply cannot accept.
This is the human response in the early days of grief. What could we have done differently; could we have changed the outcome… did we miss some sign or signal?
This is a painful process most people who endure a terrible loss are pulled to, like metal to a magnet. We search for the whys and the hows because acceptance is still a distant reality. Acceptance is the end of the healing process; these words are the beginning. This is a futile search that leaves us feeling powerless. Regardless of the answers we may find, the outcome remains the same. We have lost something precious to us; all the “if only” scenarios in the world can’t change this new reality we are caught in.
Grief is a deep well filled with tears that sparkle with love, laughter and joy we can no longer share. We brush them aside in the effort required to move through the things we cannot ignore. They fall into the well that grows ever deeper. Each day we are faced with new situations and more stories about shared ideas and things we wish we could share. This deep and overwhelming emotion we are attempting to control sneaks out and causes our voice to shake and crack just when we needed to be strong the most. It is the time we have allowed ourselves to be emotional about anything that the greatest pain of all surfaces and takes control, spilling out for the world to see.
The well doesn’t dry up until we can confront the pain and allow our broken hearts and shattered dreams to step out and be recognized, that something we cherished can never be a part of our future. It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, and we know we did not deserve the outcome we are faced with.
When you arrive at that point you are ready to let go of “if only” and move through the stages of grief that will finally take you to the place called “acceptance”.
All the things you discovered while you traveled with “if only” will remain and may always be unacceptable. It is the acceptance of the new reality you are working towards and the understanding that we all embark on a life journey that will eventually take us to the place we are destined to be at the end. We discover that all the time in between matters far more than the last time. That is the place where all the memories are stored; this is the legacy left behind that will take you to a healing place.