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charles piggy back on another boy

Making peace with regrets

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.

Published by

AnneMoss Rogers

AnneMoss Rogers is a mental health and suicide education expert, mental health speaker, suicide prevention trainer and consultant. She is author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW. She raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost her younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. She is a motivational speaker who empowers by educating and provides life saving strategies and emotionally healthy coping skills. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now that's the legacy she carries forward in her son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website.

11 thoughts on “Making peace with regrets”

  1. I had to start work later and finish later due to Covid (how that word is triggering for me now), I wanted to obtain my car license but he said that he would feel redundant if I did as he felt useful driving me around (which he did and never complained). And I did not reach out and hug him when he was so sad about the death of our dog and yet I had no reason not to reach out; I simply didn’t but I did listen and show him empathy. I did not ask him how he felt about my mum dying (he said his Sadbye two months later after her death and six weeks after our dog). So I feel like maybe he thought that I didn’t love him but then another part of me knows that he did know how much I loved him. Of course all of these events were not deliberately orchestrated, they just occurred as a series of extremely unfortunate events that to him apparently appeared related (though I have no evidence for this interpretation). Not taking his meds (as a hiatus for other medical issues), he died. And for all of this I am paying the price. I truly and deeply loved him more than anyone will ever know and a part of the price is not being able to look at photos of either him or our little dog and feeling so alone.

    Now one night as I started to walk home after work, having lost him 6 months prior, I started to break down and cry as I walked up the main street at 1.30 am. It then dawned on me that I need to take on some of the responsibility that led to his death. I feel that my lack of awareness makes me complicit in his feeling alone and abandoned as he tried to navigate the pain of his mental illness. Though not intentional, the end result is the same.

    That revelation was the first time that I finally understood that I had to seek his forgiveness for the loss of his life. And maybe I need to find forgiveness for my part in all of this, though this will take time if indeed it ever does completely come. It is no use pretending that I am not partly responsible for contributing to his saying his final Goodbye – He must have been experiencing a strong sense of isolation as all these events impounded on his state of mind. I do appreciate that not everyone will see this as I do. As I have said, there was never any ill intent. And maybe I am wrong in all of this and simply trying to alleviate the guilt which I feel. Apologies if I offend anyone in sharing these thoughts but I need to get them out of my mind to make any sense of this experience, this loss. Writing out my thoughts is how I obtain a degree of being able to move forward, if ever so slightly.

    This article by AnneMoss has prompted me to share these thoughts and I believe that by doing so, hopefully others will gain a sense of peace, if only to a slight degree, if they have had any similar revelations which may be presently upsetting for them. Acceptance of my part in this is simply a narrative that helps me by putting things into perspective. It may or may not be the reality of what was occurring, but this is Narrative is something that I can live with and that is what brings me Peace

    1. Thank you for validating my own regrets. I know now it was one small contributing factor in a sea of others but I see now my errors. I didn’t cause it but my lack of education on how to handle it was in process. I look back and see moments I did really well too. At first I was blinded by that. Thank you for your words here. The comments are Uber popular. People what to see how other interpret it and it makes them feel less alone.

  2. Oh Anne. My heart is bursting with compassion as I read your post. I’ve spent so many sleepless nights tormented by similar thoughts. My son Zach died by suicide this past January. Your descriptions of Charles remind me so much of him. I think they would have been great friends. Beautiful souls.
    Thank you for your courage, vulnerability and honesty. I found your blog a month or so after Zach died and your writing has been a lifeline to me more than once. Sending you much love and prayers for continued healing on your journey.

    1. I love getting to know who is behind the names. Thank you for posting. I know it all still feels pretty raw. And you are welcome. It was so uncomfortable putting all of this out there. It still feels that way. But it’s easier to do now and work through the doubt.

  3. Thank you for the this. I lost my daughter almost 11 years ago – she overdosed in her room at 23 just down the hall from me. I thought it would have been different if I’d spent the night in her room knowing she was vulnerable. But the truth and the reality is unless I watched her every minute of every day and night, it would have happened. We can’t be responsible. She calmly told my husband and I she loved us before going to her room that night.

    1. Oh my gosh that is such trauma. You bring up such a good point. We can’t do life for someone else. It can happen away from home or right under our noses. I’m so sorry Lois. I, too, have traveled this grief journey as you know. I appreciate your comment.

  4. Anne, I live with the same “what if’s” as you, every single day of the last 17 years since I lost my teenage son to suicide. What if I had been home with him and not a million miles away on the other side of the world on vacation? What if my ex husband had been more of an involved parent instead of “Mr. Happy Go Lucky” where all was right with the world when in fact his son was suffering in silence right before him? What if my son had told me on my last overseas phone call to him that he needed me? The “What if’s” have never stopped in all these years since my beloved boy has been gone but I have come to terms with them. I think of them and him and try to realize I did the best I could with what I knew at the time.

      1. Oh Anne, thank you for sharing that. I am in tears, because I don’t think there is a single one of us that doesn’t have a self-torturing moment that we hang over our own heads. I have so many that pop up out of nowhere and take my breath away. I did the best I could with what I knew. No matter what lies the suicidal thoughts told him, he knows this. And he knows I love him.

        1. This comment is the key “I did the best I could with what I knew. No matter what lies the suicidal thoughts told him, he knows this. And he knows I love him.” I do remind myself of that. Thank goodness I could let this go once I wrote about it. Again.

        2. Hello Kristin, so very, very true – We did do our best with what we knew, with what strengths we had, and with what our hearts spoke to us. It is always sad to read of others’ loss but we can gain strength from knowing that there are many on this journey, who are traversing the uneven terrain of Grief – and who are still traveling along its rocky paths and though not through to the other side, are nonetheless still here and walking; being a guide to others who may otherwise feel totally lost with no sense of hope.
          Thank you so kindly for sharing. Your words are now on my fridge door as they will offer me a sense of comfort in that I did really do the best that I could

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