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When I Wrestle With the What-Ifs Thinking About My Son’s Passing


I started posting on Facebook almost every day nearly from the moment I learned of my son Jake’s passing. As time went on and I moved from Facebook to the Fountain, the writing became less descriptive and more analytical as I struggled to make sense of the senselessness. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words trying to do so. Of course, there is no sense to be made of such an occurrence. It merely is.

One of the things I wrestle with is the what-ifs. What if I did something different at each turn in Jake’s life. What if I had been more or less of this or that. What if I had done or not done this or that. Second guessing every decision over the past 24 years. Everyone does it, no matter what past circumstance we are “analyzing.” Beating ourselves up for what we perceive we did “wrong” that led to such a conclusion. I’ve found it is a futile and destructive exercise.

At the time we made each decision, and I am speaking both of myself and anyone reading this, we evaluated the situation based on the facts we had at the time. We gathered information, we listened to others’ advice, we searched our soul and made the best decision we could with the information we had at a specific moment.

Looking back, we tend to forget all the tiny details we used to arrive at that decision, can’t always remember what exact things we weighed to make our choice and knowing the outcome, it’s easy to say, “Oh, if only I had done, or not done __________ (you can fill in the blank), things would have turned out differently.” It isn’t true. We did what we did for whatever reasons we thought would be best. Perhaps if we had “done something differently,” things would have turned out another way. But you can’t play that game. At the risk of an oversimplified platitude, things turn out the way they do, and we have no more power to change the outcome than we have to reverse the spin of the planet.

The other things that change over time are the circumstances. We use the circumstance of the “now” to judge the actions of “then,” which is just as unfair. We make our choice based on the circumstance and the best information we have at the time and have to live with it. That’s the difficult part, living with it when it all goes to hell.

Our children made decisions along the way, too, based on whatever their criteria were at the moment, and they couldn’t have known how it would turn out either. I used to tell Jake that every action has a consequence. Sometimes the action produces a consequence immediately. Sometimes it may take days, months or years for the path we chose to run its course.

Part of the double-edged sword of parenthood is that we raise our children to be independent beings, and somewhere around the age of 13 or 14, we lose whatever authority we may have had over their thoughts and choices. They’re going to do what they are going to do, no matter what we say.

Unless we keep them under lock and key 24 hours a day, accompany them everywhere they go and physically prevent them from doing anything we don’t approve of (all of which are impossible), at some point we have to let them go. We can advise them, we can strive to educate them, we can counsel them, we can rail at them, we can try to impose our will on them, we can beg them, we can try to intervene, but ultimately,  it’s their life and their decision.

So here I am thousands of words later, and what have all those words accomplished? No, they can’t change anything, can’t bring Jake back to us. There is little power in any single word. Perhaps taken as a whole, they help me process this experience. Perhaps someone else on this path takes some comfort knowing they aren’t alone in what they’re feeling. I don’t really know.

I’m still terribly sad beyond measure, still furious at the universe, still aching inside with a longing that won’t go away no matter how many thousands or millions or billions of words I may write.

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