There are all kinds of guilt that can come along with tragedy. There’s survivor guilt or feeling guilt for not being able to prevent the tragedy or the outcome. These are hard feelings to have and overcome. One day when I’m feeling a little more brave I’ll share with you my experience with those kinds of guilt. Today I’m going to talk about a different kind of guilt I experienced.
I remember after the shooting feeling like I would never truly be happy again. I was at a friends house the day after the shooting, lying down on a couch talking to a friend. At one point I looked up at him and said, “I feel like I’ll never be happy again.” He looked at me reassuringly and simply said,”You will”. He was a dear friend who showed a great deal of compassion to me following the shooting and I am eternally grateful for his kindness. Along with being kind he was also right, eventually I did feel happy again but I battled it. My smiles started out as half lies, trying to reassure myself and those around me that I was “OK”. Eventually and gradually that led to a halfhearted laugh and then one day the smile was genuine and the laugh was wholehearted and that was followed by the all consuming feeling of guilt. I thought, “How dare I”. How dare I feel good when someone had died, How dare I feel good when someone was still recovering from injury, How dare I be happy when something so tragic had happened. I felt as though my grieving had to equal the depth of the tragedy and that I was betraying the memory of the dead by being happy. I felt like being happy was equivalent to saying it all didn’t happen. My perception was that there were enough people walking around trying to pretend like everything was all alright. I certainly was not going to allow myself to be one of them. Slowly as I waded through these thoughts and feelings the rational part of my brain started to join in the conversation. Being miserable wasn’t really paying tribute to the deceased, in fact it was the opposite. It was alright to grieve for the loss but to live my life with joy and fulness would be more of a tribute than misery.
Being happy didn’t mean it didn’t happen. I could be happy and honest about what happened and the struggles I still faced. I also came to the conclusion that no amount of grieving or misery could equal the depth of the tragedy. So really why bother trying? I still had hard days and felt sorrow but I also allowed myself to smile and I allowed myself to laugh and when the feelings of guilt would creep back in I would invite the rational part of my brain to join me and then I would continue smiling. After all “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 nephi 2:25) and sometimes having joy is a choice and a battle, but it’s worth it.