Charles thought we’d given up on him.
There is no putting lipstick on that thought to make it pretty. And denying it won’t make it not true. I drowned in guilt over this for years. And it has resurfaced after a dream in which the phone rang incessantly and I woke up in a cold sweat that something awful had happened.
It had of course. In 2015, my son had taken his life. Why was this coming up now?
Right after he died, I was obsessed about that last phone call.
But it wasn’t the last phone call. There was another one after that. One I didn’t answer because of sheer emotional exhaustion. My head was pounding, and my mind was swimming somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean. (I live on the east coast)
That phone rang and rang and rang that afternoon. First my mobile. Then the home phone. It was torture. Like someone was drilling into my head. Part of me wanted to answer it so badly. Something told me I needed to answer it.
But I didn’t. Because after two hours of being yelled at, I’d not found out anything new, was confused about what was going on, what he was saying, or asking. In short, he made little sense.
Every instinct was pushing me towards it, yet my exhaustion paralyzed my mind and limbs. And there was this one thought that crept in as alarm bells were going off in my head, “Someday you will regret not answering that phone.”
It was an epic error I made at the absolute wrong time.
All the spent emotion on phone calls for two hours had me ground to a nub. I had nothing left. I needed a time out, a break, to think.
I did want it to be done and fixed.
Looking back I know the outcome, that he was going through withdrawal, that he wanted help but was not asking directly, and that he had broken up with his girlfriend. All of this would be a later discovery for me. I knew none of it at the time.
I also know now there was no way I was going to be able to decipher the elaborate messages he was sending in my state of mind.
I would have understood, “Mom, help me.” That wasn’t what I was hearing. And who knows if I would have responded appropriately to that?
Tough love? That was not the tact to take with my child. And yet that was the thought I leaned on right then to get that break. Because we’d tried everything else.
What Charles felt was a withdrawal of love
I didn’t hesitate to torture myself over this for years. And I’m writing about it to take away its power.
Yes, he felt abandoned but I can’t control what someone else feels.
It’s important that I accept that in Charles’s state of mind, he thought, “I am worthless. They’ve given up on me.”
I loved him with every molecule in my body. I needed a time out but I had hardly given up. It’s hard to know where to start when you have little information.
Little nicks of regret filter in every now and again. It’s never “over” but it is easier to manage.
The truth is I can’t look back at all that with the knowledge I have now and judge myself as worthless. It wasn’t even easy to figure it out once I had all the information years later, much less at the time it was happening.
We all have regrets especially if we lost someone we love. Making peace with them is the only way to live with them.