Burning My “If Only”s Behind Me

The other day I wrote about how grief changed me, that now I am more patient, and today I discovered another change. The death of “if only.” How many of us torment ourselves with thoughts of “if only”? And it is a torment, that thought of what might have been  . . . if only.

The bereft are especially prone to this syndrome.

I have talked to people who followed doctors’ orders or accepted the doctors’ hopeful prognoses, and now they are haunted by “if only”s. If only they had known it was their husband’s last day. If only they had known their mother would suffer so much longer under a doctor’s care than if she had been allowed to die at home. If only she hadn’t insisted on his going through another operation or round of chemo.

I have talked to people who didn’t follow doctors’ orders, and now they are haunted by a different set of “if only”s. If only if they had done what was prescribed. If only they had insisted their wife see a doctor. If only they had insisted their husband stop smoking.

If only . . .

I saw a twitter yesterday that said hope and maybe were two of the most damaging words in our language, but those words don’t even come close to the wreckage “if only” can do. (As for hope and maybe, as Virgil Sweet in Talent for the Game says, “Maybe is powerful stuff.”)

I had my share of “if only”s — if only he’d hadn’t been so sick, if only I could have helped him, if only I could have kept him from dying, if only I hadn’t taken his dying for granted. (It seems unreal, now, that we took for granted he would die young. Shouldn’t we have railed against it more? But he was so disciplined, focusing his energies on trying to prolong his life and be productive. It was just the way we lived.)

When I realized how few of us felt we did enough for our dying mates or hadn’t done it right, I came to the conclusion that in these situations there is no “right.” There is just “do.”

A couple of days ago I learned something about twitter (or rather, it seemed to click and I finally got it), but hash marks are used for tagging a post or for categorizing it. I hash marked grief before I posted a blog (#grief) and ended up getting an influx of readers to my blog (including a woman whose life mate/soul mate died the same day as mine, a woman who is facing her grief the same way I am, a woman who makes comments that sound exactly like what I would have written).

Astounded by this turn of events, I began to form the thought that if only I had known about the hash marks, I could have reached more people with my grief blogs, but the “if only” died in wordbirth. I couldn’t even think it. I realized then, I’d burnt up all my “if only”s. I had none left. Not one of my “if only”s had changed a single moment of his dying. Not one “if only” could change what had already happened. And not one ever would.

One of my sisters in sorrow uses this tagline line at the end of her emails, which I always marveled at because the sentiment seemed so positive compared to the horror of the grief she was living:

Perhaps it is true. And if the universe is unfolding as it should, there is no place for “if only,” so it’s just as well I burned all my “if only”s behind me.