(Twenty-ninth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
Our family loves the art of Dutch mathematician and artist M. C. Escher: the buildings that open into themselves, the school of fish that become a flock of birds, the circuitous stairways that go up and down throughout multiple buildings without an end point. Yes, stairways that never get you where you want to go, but keep you endlessly retracing your steps. They are no longer interesting art to wonder at. They now mirror how John and I have felt many times since August 2nd—regrets—retracing the steps of our entire lives.
John’s journal entry from August 22, 2014, three weeks after JL’s death:
Dad again. Mom and I are trying to move on, to move forward, but it doesn’t seem like there is any forward—like wearing lead shoes. For me, it doesn’t seem like there is a point to anything. Still, we eat, sleep, work, swim. Swimming is becoming a problem for me. Every time I swim I have time to think—not really a good thing for me now—I always seem to think about all the things I wish we had done differently.
The pattern of blaming ourselves for so many things was set from the moment our son died. John and I kept wondering why we did what we did, rethinking every decision we made over the past decade. We had so many regrets, so many things we wished we could go back and change and have been told this is very common for parents of addicted and alcoholic children: there is always a swirling storm around your loved one, and there is no way to ever get it right.
Because of the stigma that enveloped opioid and heroin addiction in the years before our son’s death (and that remains for most to this day), we – along with so many other parents and partners – lived without information and options that are now more readily accessible for those struggling with addictions. Many of the regrets that we had, especially in the first year or so after JL’s death, related directly to wishing we had known about more successful options to help with his recovery and sobriety – something he and we longed for so desperately. But we were grasping for a rope that wasn’t there as we slid down a steep mountain and ultimately over the cliff.
My journal entry from September 15, 2014 – six weeks after his death:
Mom here. Dad continues to beat himself up and said: “Why couldn’t it have been me who died instead of JL?” All the “Why’s” we have. A new one pops right up after we deal with the previous one—little prairie dogs popping up in another hole in the yard after you think you’ve plugged them all up and seen the last of them. We just want to understand, and we never will. I guess at some point we will stop asking and accept what has happened…
“Accept life, and you must accept regret.” Henri-Frédéric Amiel, philosopher and author, said this in the nineteenth-century as he struggled with his own slowly encroaching death. There’s that word again, accept. Have regrets but accept them because they are part of being imperfect and human. We were struggling with having tried so hard to make perfect decisions after much thought and input, and those decisions to not only be imperfect, but terribly wrong.
Wanting to understand the un-understandable, the un-answerable, the un-knowable. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross summed it up perfectly: “Intellect does not inform matters of the heart – and regrets are of the heart.” *
*On Grief and Grieving, pgs 40-41