In the months following the crash, I seek and accept help from a wide range of professionals. Julia, my physiotherapist, boosts my confidence by pointing out infinitesimal progress that I cannot see, as I struggle with a whiplash injury. My conversations with healers provide grist for the mill of my morning conversations with Karl.
A wise practitioner, my compassionate psychologist, Michelle, quickly spots survivor guilt. Bad flashbacks are interrupting my sleep.
In October 2016, after one disturbing flashback, I write:
I am in our submerged car, trying to save you, untangling your seatbelt, and pushing you through the car window. It felt so desperate that I had to get up and take a sleeping pill. I was terrified. I feel that you were ready to die. I feel that I did everything I could to save you – in the seconds or minutes that we had. I pray it is all right with you. I was so confused! I would have died to save you – but I couldn’t see any point in dying, too. Please tell me it’s all right!
Michelle convinces me that I could never have saved Karl even if I had succeeded in unfastening his seat belt. He was unconscious and would have been a dead weight. In trying to shove or drag him through the car’s only open window, I would probably have drowned myself.
A massive wave of self-forgiveness and compassion
That vital insight triggers a wave of self-forgiveness and compassion in me. And it strongly affects Karl. He is eager to take things to the next level when I record this message on March 23, 2017, more than a year after his death:
Now I feel you have finally accepted that you could not free me from the car. The doors were centrally locked. I had no air. I was unconscious — but my spirit was aware — and I was ready to go. And you ‘midwived’ my passing. What a sacred thing for a beloved to do — to hold me as I died — to transmit Earth healing to me — and to release me after that. You gave me such a beautiful gift. I will never forget how you stayed with me until I was ‘gone’. You knew exactly what I needed. No one has ever given me such an important — and life-changing, soul-changing gift. It’s the biggest gift — the gift of attentive loving. Thank you.
I am not done
It takes me a long time to hear that powerful song of forgiveness from Karl. I am like a broken record, channeling Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu’s powerful mantra:
I am sorry, and I am not done (The Book of Forgiving, 2014: 189).
nothing to forgive
Seven months later, in late October 2017, Karl tries again to convince me that there is nothing to forgive about how I handled his death in the river:
You did all you could. I was unconscious so that I couldn’t help in any way. There was so little time. My time was up, and I was accepting of leaving, even though leaving you was so hard. You did not abandon me — you simply saved your own life! And that’s what God wanted you to do.
Karl reframes my survivor guilt as both “the gift of attentive loving” and “doing what God wanted me to do.” And, finally, I accept that what he says is correct: I did everything I could to save him. After he drowned, I knew what to do; I remembered my spiritual training and my sacred commitments.
In the river, ultimately, all I could do was to love him and release him.