How do I set this down?

Part of transformational thinking is the ability to let go, to get past being stuck, to move forward. Once, a patient asked me a question about this very issue, about his inability to move past a personal tragedy. He asked me, “How do you set something down when you don’t know how to set something down?”

I didn’t have an answer for his question at the time. It would take me nearly eight years and a personal crisis of my own before I could offer him a complete and reasonable response. Here is what happened.

My patient shouted “Wait!” to his son who was bounding toward his motorcycle, already late for work. His son stopped and turned toward his father, listening for an explanation. “Don’t you be late for dinner again tonight!”, he yelled with smile on his face and a hand up in the air waving him off. His son shouted back grinning, “I won’t. I promise.” The son jumped on his motorcycle, cranked it up and sped off down a back country road. Less than two minutes from his house he was struck and killed by a motorist who had sped through a stop sign at 60 miles per hour.

Afterward, to describe his father as a broken man falls far short of the mark. He fell into a pitch black depression. He blamed himself for his son’s death. He would say to me repeatedly, “If I had not stopped him and teased about being late for dinner he would still be alive. My son would have missed that car at the intersection where he was killed.”

Listening to him tell this story was heart breaking because he believed it was true. I would point out to him many times that if his son had made different decisions and taken different actions himself, that also might have saved him.

If he hadn’t overslept and been running late for work, if had hadn’t stayed out too late the night before which caused him to oversleep, if had hadn’t gone out with his friends the previous evening, if he had bought a car instead of a motorcycle, and so on and on and on.

Deep down, my grief stricken patient knew all of this was true. But still, he couldn’t let go of the wrong headed assumption that he was proximately responsible for his son’s death. He just couldn’t get past that notion.

More than a year after the incident occurred he was back in my office, despondent. I was seeing him regularly for his depression. The medication I was prescribing and the counseling he was receiving weren’t helping to lift his depression. I was telling him that he had to find someway, somehow to begin to put this tragedy behind him. That is when he asked me, “How do you put something down when you don’t know how to put something down?”

I had no answer for him. I had no idea why this good man lost his good son at too young an age and why he was left to sort it all out. I have never forgotten that question. I was only within the past year that I was able to offer him any answer at all that made sense.

Something terrible happened to me a little over two years ago, a personal tragedy. My world, my world view, everything I thought I knew, all my plans, all ,my hopes, all my dreams were all turned upside down and destroyed in an instant. My faith was shaken. The person I trusted the most in this world betrayed that trust. I felt lost and broken.

I knew I would survive, I just didn’t know at what cost. I slept a few hours a night. I couldn’t eat and I lost 41 pounds. I cried all of the time, in front of my dog, in front of my friends, in front of my staff, and at times in front of my patients. I couldn’t stop myself. This went on non-stop for about four months.

Everyone was extremely supportive. But the pain continued. I never went back to drinking alcohol. I never went on any mood altering prescribed medications. None of that would have fixed what was broken.

As the months passed I began to feel better. I stopped crying all of the time and began to enjoy some things again. I began to sleep better and I stopped losing weight. Still, I relived my tragedy over and over again.

I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was the first thing I thought about when I got up in the morning and I hated that. I wanted to put it all behind me. I grew weary of thinking about what had happened to my life.

I was explaining all of this to a friend a few months ago and they were telling me that I was going to have to find some way, some how to put it all of that behind me. Without even thinking I turned to them and asked, “How do you set something down when you don’t know how to set something down?” My friend didn’t know either.

After the first of this year and through a series of happy circumstances, I began to explore some other avenues of expression with interest and later with intention. I began to write more and really began to enjoy the process of writing content for my blog. I started a podcast, The Power of Transformation, and put up this new website by the same name. I have attended several of Dan Miller’s seminars in Franklin, TN, joined his 48Days.net community and have enrolled in his Coaching Mastery Program with the intention of becoming a personal coach. Also, I am editing a book that I hope to have published later this year.

A few weeks back, I realized that I had gone several days without thinking about what had happened to me a little over two years ago. Whether it was just time or more forward looking that caused this I don’t know but that is when it hit me, the answer to the question for which I had no answer.

For me, the answer wasn’t setting what had happened to me down. You simply can’t forget tragedy, not as long as you have a memory. I didn’t have to set it down anyway. The answer for me, dear reader, was to face forward and pick up some other things, lots of new and promising things. It seems that my arms and hands are too full of the new and different these days to hold on to the same old.

Written by

Clark Gaither, MD

1 Comments to “How do I set this down?”

  1. Hope Schaefer says:

    A gripping and compelling story. A difficult question that we all wrestle with at some point in life. So glad you shared it.

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