Today’s therapy session really hit me hard. The part where I lost it was when I realized how little time had passed between the proposal and Emily’s death. (It was less than 3 weeks.) Regarding the timeline of our relationship, those two items rest directly next to each other — both equally impactful, yet in stark contrast to each other, like polar opposites. They’re like day and night. The beginnings of forever and the ending credits, with nothing more than some spreadsheets and Pinterest boards in between.
I’m unsure how to share everything inside my mind right now. It’s chaos, yet the thoughts keep rolling as if my brain thinks it can piece everything together in a way that makes sense. Unfortunately, all it keeps coming up with are ways to blame me.
I’m No Stranger To Blaming Myself
Emily’s death isn’t the first time I have experienced life events that cause me to question everything about myself. In fact, many thoughts eating away at me today sound eerily similar to thoughts that lived in my head rent-free through most of the early 2000s when I was in middle school and early high school.
I realize many aspects of my life made me vulnerable to the events that unfolded during my middle school years. And, everywhere I turned, I was confronted with even more evidence that the things that happened to me were either not as awful as they felt to me, or they were merely consequences I deserved.
My abuser made it clear that I brought out the worst in him, and he couldn’t control himself around me. The adults I told (a teacher and the guidance counselor) both found reasons to pass the blame onto me or take my assailant’s side.
So, eventually, I started blaming myself. And that trend stuck with me. Bullying, failed friendships, future assaults, mental health crises — all of these things were my fault. I even found a way to blame myself for a classmate’s fatal accident in high school even though I was no where near the accident the weekend it happened.
Even now, anytime anything goes wrong, I immediately seek anything I can use to blame it all on myself.
The Blame Game Is An Easy One To Play
Once you start fishing for ways to make something your fault, it’s incredibly easy for that list to multiply. You can twist almost any situation in a way that places the blame on you, regardless of whether or not there’s any truth to it.
The easiest way to make Emily’s death my fault is to simply say I should have made her go the emergency room much sooner.
The week after I proposed, she saw her PCP about the symptoms she was experiencing, but the doctor didn’t seem concerned or in a rush to diagnose what was going on, even though it was obvious Emily was in pain. I told her how concerned I was, but each time I mentioned the ER, she came up with an excuse to not go. And, because I hate conflict and I never wanted Emily to feel like I didn’t see her as an equal adult, I never pushed. I was weak.
From there, I can go down several different rabbit holes to blame myself even further. I could say I wasn’t reminding her to take her medications, nor was I doing my part to make sure she was taking care of her body. Emily picked up tons of extra shifts in September. 2022 had become an expensive year for us, and she thought the extra money would help. But I knew from watching Emily work 60+ hour weeks in previous years, it’s just not good for her.
Then we can say I messed up her medication routines with the move and my own routines and schedules. Or the stress of wedding planning threw off routines and habits she’d developed. In fact, you could say (and some have) that the fact that I proposed is the entire issue and that she died because I “turned her gay.” Or maybe she gave up because she didn’t really want to marry me.
Now, am I saying any of these thoughts are rational? Not necessarily. But I am saying that there are all sorts of ways to blame me for Emily’s departure from this world.
What Do We Do With Blame?
I feel like blame is one of the heaviest loads I’ve ever carried around in my life. Because, at least in my mind, I’m not just living with the burden of it all in my current lifetime, but it’s also left me permanently flagged and taken away what chances I might have had for an eternal life after this.
In middle school and high school, I channeled the negative energy self-blamed filled me with into very unhealthy decisions. I self-harmed as a form of punishment. I went to confession and prayed the Rosary. I stockpiled medications then consumed large quantities at once to make myself sick or experience the way it temporarily altered my brain. I even tried to end my existence a few times.
But, that was two decades ago. So what do I do with this guilt and shame that I’m feeling now?
I’ll be honest, what I’m doing now isn’t any better than what I did back then. And, just like I discovered in my youth, nothing provides much more than a temporary drop in my emotions and intrusive thoughts.
Each day, there’s a part of me that wishes I could talk to Emily and find out whether she blames me. But mostly, I just wish I could either bring her back or, at the very least, trade places with her so she could continue down the incredible path she’d outlined for herself.
Like I told my therapist today as we discussed the entire history of my relationship with Emily, what upsets me the most is that fact that it all ended so soon. It’s not how it was supposed to be, and it’s not fair to Emily that she didn’t get to do all the things she dreamed of accomplishing.
When Emily was around, I didn’t have any reason to blame myself because she made my life so wonderful. But because she’s gone, I can’t help but wonder if everyone would be better off without me.