Food. The very thought of eating something made me sick to my stomach. Everyone around me, all my sweet family and friends, asking me the same question, “Can I get you something to eat?” So much had changed in my life instantly, food somehow became not important. Eating was a burden. Eating had lost flavor. Eating became my new enemy.
My life was in shambles and became impossible to put back together. My daughter was gone and my life felt destroyed. Not eating created a pain in me and that pain was exactly what I felt in my heart. If I allowed myself the satisfaction of eating something substantial, it was like I was letting myself off the hook. Emilie was gone and I wanted to feel that pain. I wanted to feel it all because it didn’t seem fair if I didn’t. It didn’t seem fair that I was somehow left on this earth, healthy and well, and my little girl’s body was beyond repair and no longer alive. I needed pain. The truth is, I felt guilty and I wanted to punish myself for it.
Then one day I looked at my husband and my two little girls, one sick in my arms, and I made a choice. They needed me. I needed to choose to take care of myself. If not for me at that moment, then for them. I picked up a half of a sandwich and began to eat. The change in my body was instant. My body, which had been begging for nutrition for a week now, was finally getting what it needed and I admittedly felt better.
Last week we landed in New Mexico, our home prior to moving to Connecticut. It was the first time I had been back and I was a bit unsure how I would feel about it. Of course I was excited to see old friends, but I wasn’t sure how it would feel being flooded with memories of our old life that we once had there. A few minutes into our drive I felt the emotions come pounding on my chest. What if you would have just stayed here? What if you would have just never moved? She would be here. She would still be alive. The guilt arrived. I looked at Robbie and I could see the tears building in his eyes as well. Why was I so selfish? Why did I move from here? She would still be alive!
I burst into tears and poured out all that I was feeling to Robbie, who began crying as well. Were we wrong? Was it our fault this happened?
Guilt. It’s a powerful emotion. It is truly what I struggle with the most these days. I looked up at Robbie again as we both tried to gain our composure. I softly said, “I need to forgive myself. If I don’t, he wins. It’s just so hard!”
For months now, this has been my continuous burden. I will call my counselor and give detailed accounts to all the things that I am struggling with. She will lovingly point out to me the common word in all my problems….guilt.
So why is this such a struggle? In my head I know full well this was the choice of someone else that took the life of my child, not my own. I know that all the choices I made up to that point in my life were done through thoughtful prayer and with good intentions. I know I felt good about my choices at the time. So why then do I take so much of the burden on myself?
I have been trying really hard to let go of these guilty emotions and as difficult as it is, I know it is part of my grieving. On Sunday at church, I listened to President Boyd K. Packer give a talk about this very topic. He called guilt a disease. A disease that can take over your life. Without forgiving ourselves and letting go of the guilt that consumes us, we are letting a disease take over our lives and rule it.
I look at my life now and think of Emilie and my dad watching me live it. In my reunion with them I don’t want to have to try and explain why I wasted my life living with guilt. I need to forgive myself and allow my spirit to do what it needs to do to heal. Though feeling the pain feels just, I know that it is not healthy. I have looked back often to that moment five or so months ago when I allowed myself to finally eat. When I finally made that choice to do what was best for my body and allow myself to be healthy. I have to do the same for myself on the inside as well. If not, this life of mine could easily become diseased with guilt and anger. I miss my Em. I miss her so much. I want to make her proud not saddened by my choices. Even though it is a battle and a constant fight in my mind, I know it’s a fight worth winning. I know my family is worth fighting for.