I just got off the phone with a friend of mine after a very intense conversation concerning the concept of guilt. I haven’t written about this subject matter yet, because it’s taken me some time to admit to myself, and in return, all of you, the guilt I carry with me in relation to Brian’s death.
Brian died on a Sunday. He spent the few days prior texting his instructor and classmates about the plan for his weekend class. It was going to be their first dive using Trimix (a blend of helium, oxygen and nitrogen) which he was nervous but excited about, and also the last dive to complete the class he was in. Due to a variety of circumstances, the class was running very behind schedule, and should have been completed months prior, so everyone was very frustrated and anxious to get it done and over with. The few days prior to Sunday, dozens of text messages were exchanged about the class being held and what the weekend would look like, who would teach it, where they’d dive, etc. As the week progressed, the answers to these questions changed again and again and by Friday night, Brian was frustrated. Being six months pregnant had me feeling yucky, so I stayed home as he took the kids down to the dive shop to get the final information for Sunday’s class. He came home and sat on the couch with me.
He told me he was frustrated, he didn’t feel like he was getting out what he was putting in and was thinking of just dropping the class and spending the weekend with us instead. He expressed feeling guilty about the constant changes the kids and I had to adapt to because of his unreliable class schedule, feeling selfish that he was spending so much time diving and away from us, and he was concerned it would effect us as a family. He’d been waking up early to get an hour of diving in before work a few times a week to avoid having it impede on our family time in the afternoons, and it was his way of getting to dive while making sure his family knew we were his priority. He always made sure to tell me I came first, above anything else in his life, he’d say there would be no him without me and the kids. Diving, work, travel, sailing, it was all secondary to us, his family, and he always made sure his actions backed up these words. So Friday night as he sat down on the couch to tell me he was frustrated, that the constant chaos at the shop was effecting his excitement about finishing the class, he started to talk himself out of continuing the class. He told me he was considering dropping it, spending the weekend with us instead and that could always pick it back up another time, with another instructor, or another shop, after I’d had the baby in a few months. He wanted us to be his focus and it wasn’t his personality to be ok with the constant change, knowing it was effecting all of us.
I heard him out, listened to his concerns before I looked him in the eyes and said, “no.” I told him he’d come this far, he had one class and one day of diving left to finish this cert and we’d all gotten this far together, we could get through one last weekend of it. He told me he just didn’t want his own selfish desires to interfere with us as a family, reiterating that we were his priority. I said to him, “Babe, we’re not going to be happy as a couple unless you feel fulfilled as an individual. You’re so close, just finish it out and then you can take a break, regroup and go from there. Maybe you take a break after this one, or maybe you jump into the next class because this is what you want and what makes you happy.” He looked me in the eyes on that couch and said, “Thank you. I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but I’m so thankful to have you. I can’t believe how supportive you are. I love you.” I told him I loved him too and that was that. He was going to continue with the class as currently scheduled, finish it out and then probably take a break for a little bit.
Two days later I was sitting on that same couch when my phone rang, the shop manager calling to tell me there’d been an accident and they were coming to get me to bring me to the ER.
I’ve replayed this conversation between Brian and I at least one thousand times in my head. I can hear myself encouraging him to go, to finish it because I knew he wanted to, that it would make him happy and proud and that’s what I wanted for him. I can see the sparkle in his eyes, the dimple in his left cheek as he looked at me, grateful for the fact that I pushed him and encouraged him in everything he did, knowing it was coming from a place of wanting amazing thing for him. Now I cry myself to sleep some nights wishing we’d had a different conversation. Wishing I’d said, “Don’t go.” I know without a shadow of doubt in my mind, if I had said, “Don’t go” he wouldn’t have. He would have stayed home with me and the kids on Sunday, we would have gone to the beach, or to the park, we would have made memories as a family and come home enjoying living our best life in Hawaii. If I had said “Don’t go” I would have spent that day with my husband, laughing and making fun of each other, instead of laying on top of him, trying to warm him up, in a cold ER room screaming “This isn’t real.” All I needed to say was “Don’t go.” Instead, I said “Go.” And he did.
I have to live with this. I know I’m not responsible for his death, but I know what I could have done differently to change the circumstances and nothing can change me from feeling that way. I will carry this weight, guilt, burden, whatever you want to call it with me forever. It could have been as simple as saying, “Don’t go.” But that’s not in my wheel house. That’s not the person I am, that’s not how our relationship was, that’s not what Brian expected from me as his partner. He knew I’d always encourage him to “Go” and that’s why he fell in love with me. That doesn’t make it any easier to live with. I’d give absolutely anything to have him back here with me, to change our conversation that night and for one moment, to be an unsupportive, selfish partner that just wanted him home with us instead of chasing his dreams. I’d do it in a heartbeat.
I’m tempted to turn off comments on this post, because I don’t want to hear “It’s not your fault, don’t think like that.” I know it’s not my fault, I don’t need you to tell me that, but that doesn’t change how I feel. My way of working through some of these emotions is to write it down and let you all read it, exposing my grief to you so that I can move forward from it. I can’t go back and change any of it, but I can use my experience to shape my future and that’s what I’m working on here. I encourage you all to try to do the same, it’s not easy but it’s well worth it.
Thank you for reading. xo