survivor’s guilt.

Sophomore year of college, I had the pleasure of living with one of the sweetest, brightest people I have ever met.   Christine was a force to be reckoned with.  A phenomenal singer with a bubbling personality and a lust for life.

Christine and I were basically the Odd Couple. I would encourage her to go to class, eat vegetables and study for exams.  She would encourage me to party more, stay out later and enjoy life.  Neither of us took the other’s advice.

Christine ended up dropping out of school, later that year, due to medical issues.  Around that time, we ended up having a falling out – a situation too lengthy to recant here.

And then a few years ago, Christine died of a heroin overdose.  I didn’t know she was using heroin.  I didn’t know she was struggling.  I hadn’t seen her in a long time, so I wasn’t sure what she had been up to.  But for whatever reason, I felt nothing but guilt when I found out.  Somehow, I was responsible.  This voice in the back of my head would say “If you were a better friend, she wouldn’t be dead”.

Life milestones would come and go.  A promotion here.  An apartment there.  A new beau.  A trip to a new city.  And the guilt would set in.  I’m getting to enjoy things she never got to.  “You could have saved her.  You failed”.

It took years for me to finally realize that her death wasn’t my fault.

Thankfully, that survivor’s guilt that has been weighing on my neck like a millstone, has started to fall away.  Instead of guilt, I have decided to live a life of love.  Spreading joy, positivity, baked goods and happiness whenever and wherever I can.  While I hope and pray that my friends know they can come to me anytime, day or night, 24/7 if they need help, I know now that is also their right not to.

The one thing Christine taught me while she was alive was to live in the moment and not dwell on the past.  While this is certainly a struggle for me, I view every day as an opportunity to live a good life, in her memory.

For you, Christine,
-C

darkness.

As you may have read in yesterday’s guest post, the theme I picked for this weekend is renewal, rebirth and resurrection.

Although I’m not a Christian, I spent a considerable portion of my adult life studying Christian theology, the Bible, comparative religions and Eastern philosophies.  I’m a theology nerd, amongst other things.

It hit me when I woke up this morning that in the Christian liturgical calendar, today is Holy Saturday – the day that Jesus lay in the tomb after the crucifixion.  For Christians across the globe, this is essentially a day of anticipation of the joy of Resurrection Day (Easter).

I find it fitting, in a way, that in this story, there is a period of darkness that comes right before the miracle.  Darkness, not only for Jesus in the tomb, but a period of emotional darkness for all of those who followed him.

It can be so easy, when we look back through the chapters of our lives, to forget the sadness, grief, angst or suffering that came before our biggest moments of joy, growth or healing.

Today, I invite you to reflect on a period of darkness in your life.  Instead of mourning that time, I ask that you think about how that time gave way to something greater and, just for a brief moment, express a little gratitude for that time of sorrow.

The light is coming,
-C

death, regret & lessons from the end.

Just as I started writing today’s blog post my phone started buzzing.  They finally found him, but it was too late.  He had passed away.  This young man, who I did not have the pleasure of knowing very well, was kind of like a distant sibling.  What we shared in common was our love and appreciation for our “second Mom” Tracie, a phenomenal woman who has a wide web of young people she has nurtured and mentored over the years.  We were both proud members of that extended family.

The last time I saw him was several months ago in Philly.  He showed me pictures of his daughter, telling me how much he loved her.  We told stories and shared some laughs.  He introduced me to his beautiful and equally sweet girlfriend.  We all talked about the past, overcoming obstacles and planning for the future.

Originally, this post was going to be a reflection on my time volunteering in hospice. But I think the one, big, life transforming lesson I’ve learned, both from hospice work and from mourning the passing of friends and family members, is the same:

We all have the tendency to spend way too much of our precious time and energy on the wrong shit.

A lot of people ask me what kinds of things the dying talk about as they near the end. God? Heaven? Hell?  In my experience, rarely.

My patients mostly talk about how much they adore their children and grandchildren.  Their pets.  How they love knitting, but can’t do it so much anymore because of arthritis.  The time they accidentally drank moonshine.  Family. Friends. Fun.

But also, lots of regret: the grudges held entirely too long, the friendships that could have been mended, the marriages that could have been saved, the fear that held them back from finding joy.

“I wish I had spent more time with my family.”

“I regret not making up with that friend.”

“I should have told my father I forgave him.  Now it’s too late.”

As an atheist, I don’t know if anything waits for us on the other side of death’s door, but I do know that we have this moment, right now.  Our time on this earth is finite. Sometimes we see the end approaching and sometimes we don’t.  But either way, I hope we can all spend a little more time creating great memories, spending quality time with our family and friends, forgiving trespasses and loving each other fully, without fear.

Love.
-C