My stepfather’s illness tore my mother into a thousand pieces. As for me, blame it on youth, depression, anything you want: in no way, was I of any help to her. We fought constantly—over what used to be called the simple things; like why I hadn’t cleaned the dishes before she came home from visiting him in the hospital. She would ask in choked, shallow bursts, “Why won’t you help me?” I wanted to ask: “Why is this happening?”
Occasionally, my stepfather was allowed home. Terminally ill, he would sit in silence, deteriorating, staring out the window as my mother and I screamed back and forth at one another. Afterward, she would hide upstairs in her bedroom, but the air ducts carried her sobbing throughout the house. It was unbearable. I would often leave for the day, hoping they would be asleep before I came back. On one of his last visits, I did the same: I left.
Coming home that evening, there was a layer of fresh snow on the ground, and a note posted to the front door. It read: “Your stepfather has had a heart attack. Please call the hospital.”
I don’t remember thoughts—only snow and nausea. Walking inside, I found blood smeared across the floor, and clots of hair still stuck to the wall. When his heart stopped, he fell two flights of stairs. I think my mother dragged him off of them.
Miraculously he survived… for another few months. I broke apart. I was—and still am—convinced I caused at least part of what happened that day. I’ve been told otherwise, but I remember the fighting, how it felt, knowing I’d left my mother alone in those moments of unmistakable hell. And there is another feeling, one I never wish to forget. Absolute Remorse. I think of what my mother must have went through, how I wasn’t there to help, how I’ll never regain those hours: my absence when she needed me the most.
Exhale. It’s been seven years now since his death. I’ve learned not to forgive myself, but to understand my mistakes. I’ve discovered what remorse has to offer. The hope—no—the knowledge, first-hand knowledge, of what it means to take responsibility for our actions. Regret’s haunting is not restrained to nightfall. Its pervasive arms stretch every direction of the compass, waiting patiently for those moments when we find ourselves alone. This is how it should be; and this is how it is. Some things in life just can’t be resolved.
Guilt is necessary—but beautiful. It’s the shadow of contentment. It’s the after-effect of our daily misadventures in thoughtlessness. Understanding our displeasure at its cultivation helps us better understand ourselves. It may not be resolve, but it is progress. Waking without the remnants of yesterday’s regret makes living that much easier. I am indebted to my mistakes. They remind me of who I was, who I am, and who I wish to be. For this, I believe in Remorse.
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