The grief and guilt nearly strangled my heart.
The day before our anniversary (she was almost eight months pregnant with our first child) is when I killed her.
It was about 10:30 PM on March 7 when we pulled onto the highway on the way to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary. Looking over at her dark hair, porcelain face and her very pregnant belly, I said: “I’m glad you’re with me.”
“You are?” she asked in her sweet way that shows the pure pleasure of surprise.
“Yeah, of course I am.” I said with a huge smile.
“You deserve a kiss for that.” And she leaned across the truck and kissed me on the cheek.
“I love you,” I said.
“I love you,” she said.
Those were the last words we’d say to each other.
Just 45 minutes later, with my pregnant wife sleeping soundly next to me, I fell asleep while driving.
I woke up just before the collision. The panic was like that feeling you get in a nightmare.
This can't be happening!
I slammed on the breaks and jerked the wheel with all my might, but it was too late.
When I woke in the hospital, there was a stranger standing by my bed.
“Where’s my wife?” I asked. His face contorted, looking for the right words to say in an impossible conversation. No answer.
“Where’s my wife?” I demanded. Still, without the words, all he could give was a silent stare.
Finally, the panic now coming back to me as I started to remember, “WHERE’S LIBBY?”
Now, with the only words he could find, “They only brought back one body from the accident.”
Drugged up from my own injuries and overwhelmed by the shock, I passed out.
When I woke up in the hospital again, there were about 40 people in the hospital room, but the only two I saw were her mom and dad.
I could hear their thoughts echoing in my mind ...
HOW COULD YOU BE SO RECKLESS?!
How could you let this happen?!
How could you …?!!
At that moment I wanted to become someone else so I could strangle myself to death.
I wanted to be a trained fighter so I could beat myself to a bloody pulp, until the former me begged for forgiveness. I wanted to be anyone else so I could join her parents in their grief and anger at this reckless asshole who let their daughter die while he was driving.
In the years that followed, I worked hard to self-destructively accomplish all three.
The way my wife and I ended up together was as terrific as the end was tragic ...
Love at first sight and a proposal at the top of the Empire State Building because Sleepless in Seattle was one of her favorite movies (with special thanks again to Director of Security Jesse Peterson and Night Manager of Security Tim Donahue for exclusive access to the 102nd floor for the proposal).
Then, on March 8, we married in front of 500 of our friends and family, who celebrated and danced the night away with us.
364 days later, on March 7, our marriage came to an end on the side of a highway.
A couple days after the accident, I was in the shower searching for some way to go on when the strangest thought came to me. A thought I didn't really understand until much later, but it went like this:
You can be happy or you can be miserable. It’s a whole lot easier to be miserable. But it’s a whole lot better to be happy.
One of those vows was to create a wall in one room of my house wallpapered with 1,000 thank you letters from people whose lives I've had the privilege to positively impact.
I decided this after standing there, giving the eulogy of the woman I loved so tremendously and enjoyed for such little time. I looked out at the 500 people at the funeral and realized that this is the impact a single life can make. 500 people whose lives were touched by hers. And in some way we can’t describe, but know intuitively, her life lives on in each of theirs.
This is the greatest gift we can give in life — to actively choose to be an ingredient in the success and happiness of others.
What I learned is this: The way to get over guilt is to become that ingredient in the lives of those around you. Right now you have some people in your world whose lives you can improve by being an ingredient in their happiness.
What is it that makes you feel guilty, Dear Reader? What nags at your soul, giving you no rest at night? What makes you wonder if you're a good person, and whether you "deserve" the happiness you desire?
Whatever it is, do this: Find someone to love, to care for.
Look at those closest to you. And if you're in a romantic relationship, ask yourself these 3 questions:
1. If tragedy struck you (like it did me), what would you have wanted to say to this person?
2. What words have you said that you wish with all your heart you could take back?
3. How would you want your partner to feel about how much you love them?
When you do this, when you use those feelings of guilt to prompt you to great, braver love, the heaviness of heart gets lifted from your soul like the way the gentle tide removes the sand under a stranded ship.
It really does.