To truly forgive, we must let go of all feelings of contention and no longer harbor ill feelings towards someone we feel has wronged us. To repent, we must not only right our wrongs with the people whom we have hurt, but we must also make right with God those things for which we are asking to be forgiven. Forgiveness and repentance were two words I had heard a million times in my life. I had even studied them in depth in books and in scripture. But until I had to apply them in context, for myself, I had no idea of the impact and power of their weight on my soul. At the beginning of this tragedy, I thought forgiveness of all parties involved would merely come as a moment when I could check the “forgiveness” category off a list . . . and all would feel right again. I even walked around for a long time pretending in my mind, that I had forgiven each of them, and that it would never be a serious issue for me. I didn’t know how wrong I was. Each day since that horrible event has been a step in the process of forgiveness and a series of moments that have taught me how to apply the Atonement of Jesus Christ in my life.
I not only faced the pain of having to forgive, but I had also allowed darkness to creep inside of me, for which I had to truly repent. Furthermore, I had regrets for things I wish I had done . . . and should have done before the tragedy. Moments when I should have been braver and acted on the fears inspiring me to dig deeper to find answers. Instead of following those promptings, I allowed my emotions and insecurities to keep me from bringing to light the things that could have helped my family.
I had so many moments that played over and over in my mind . . . so many regrets of things left unsaid, and worse, moments when I should have just shut my big fat mouth and not said some of the things I said out of fear. Just as Emmett hadn’t always been the perfect husband . . . I hadn’t always done the right thing, or said the right things as his wife. That truth was hard to face, especially after he was gone. There were many wasted days spent racking my brain about how I could have done things differently. And many lonely nights filled with tears, begging Heavenly Father to forgive me for my imperfections in my marriage. Though I have come to feel peace with the truth that his death didn’t happen because of me, and that his choosing to have an affair was not my fault or a reaction to anything I did or did not do, it has nonetheless been hard not to put the blame on myself and my imperfections as his wife . . . whether real or imagined.
Forgiving a man who would never be able to ask for my forgiveness was like living in a room with no windows . . . but being asked to use the light of the moon to see. I had put my entire energy into finding harmony in our marriage, and now that I was only left with myself . . . all I could do was make ME whole again. I tossed and turned, knowing that forgiveness would have to come for me in a form that I had never before experienced. Forgiveness, to me, had always meant that you say you are sorry, they say they are sorry, and you forgive each other and move on. Now it was just me. Nobody lying next to me in my bed to lean over and tell me how sorry he was for the mess he had left me to clean up and all the pain he had caused me. He wasn’t even there to tell me how I could have been a better person . . . or wife for him.
So, one night after everyone had gone back to their own lives . . . as I lay in bed alone, I prayed for a shimmer of hope . . . a moment or a means to find the peace I needed to forgive him.
That night I had a dream. All around me were piles of something white. As I got closer to them, I could see that they were all letters. They went on for miles and miles, like the ocean. I just stared at them unaware of why they were all there. As I reached out my hand to pick up one of them . . . all of the sudden Emmett was standing next to me. His eyes looked somber. He had a tear trickling down his face. He leaned in and spoke into my ear. He said, “They are all from me, Ash. … It is everything I should have said, everything I didn’t say, and everything I am sorry for.” I stood frozen, staring at him, not knowing what to say. I looked out at all the letters. They looked as though they went on forever, and they stacked up higher than a building. I couldn’t even see an end. I turned back towards him to ask him all of the questions that had been weighing on me . . . but he was gone.
Why would he leave? Couldn’t he just stay and read them to me? My eyes searched for him up and down the mountains of envelopes . . . but the more I searched the horizon, the more I realized he wasn’t there. I began to panic. Why would he just say those few words and then abandon me again? Didn’t he know I needed him to answer so many of my questions? Didn’t I deserve just a few more minutes of his time? I stood there for a long time, trying to figure out why he had left. Eventually, my heart stopped racing and I calmed myself down and decided to just start reading.
I picked up the first letter. I slowly tore open the envelope. … “My Dearest Ashlee, I am sorry that you are alone. I am sorry that I am gone. You have no idea how much I wish I was there with you.” Next letter. … I opened it a little faster, craving to read his next words. “I am sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me the most.” By now, I was racing to open each letter, “I wish I would have known that my choices would have caused us so much pain . . . I didn’t mean to hurt you.” “I am sorry you are doing it all by yourself.” Next. “I should have been true to you. You deserved my whole heart . . . but I didn’t save it for you.” “I miss you.” “Please don’t let your fear of our past keep you from living your life.” “Please let yourself move forward with faith.” “I wish I would have cherished my family.” “I wish I would have come home a little earlier every night.” “I wish you could feel the regret I have so you could see how much I am hurting for the things I put you through.” “I wish I would have laughed more.” “Please help our kids remember the ‘me’ you fell in love with.” “Please help others who are where I was in life so they can learn from my mistakes.” “I am sorry I lied.” “I am sorry I abandoned all the truth that I once knew.” “I am sorry I didn’t just tell you everything and make it right.” “I wish I had known that was my last Christmas . . . I would have spent more time with you.” “I wish I would have been more engaged when Tytus was born, that I wouldn’t have kept texting and leaving you alone in the hospital.” “I wish I could see Tytus take his first steps, Teage play football, the twins have their first date, Kaleeya play with her Doggy Doggy.” “I wish I hadn’t gone on that trip before I died.” “I am sorry I involved Teage in my lies . . . the way he is suffering now is not only because I am gone, it is because of what I did.” “Please tell my story to others so no one else has to feel the anguish that is torturing me.” “I am sorry you feel worthless . . . I wish I would have showed you how priceless you are to me.” “I wish I would have made more promises and never broken them.” “I wish I could hold you and take away your pain.” “Ashlee, please help the kids be strong. They need you. You are all they have now.” “Please live a life you will be proud of.” “Please know that I love you.” “I wish I could do it all over again. I would have put you all first.”
Mountains of words I needed to hear—all night long. I climbed the peaks of letters and soaked in every phrase. All the things I was begging to hear the night he died, all the things I wish he would have said. Though I still will never actually hear the words from his mouth, that dream has brought me so much peace. It has been a pillar of love in the healing and forgiving process, which have been required for my journey. I know it was just a dream, but at that point in my healing, for me it was a powerful vision.
We all have mountains to climb. Sometimes we have to climb to the highest peaks before we can find the answers to our prayers. I have felt the mountains of regret . . . but that night, I was blessed to reach a summit of words filled with peace. Each letter was like a weight being lifted off of me.
I had been wronged on so many levels. I had craters of pain that ran deep inside of my soul. But I loved Emmett and I loved my Heavenly Father for carrying me when I could not stand. I had to let it go and carry on. That I knew now without a doubt.
I had to be strong for my little children, who would soon be going back to school and facing the world. They were going to have their own journeys in life. Emmett wouldn’t be able to see any of it, as part of our family here on earth. I had to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other . . . and carry on, and I felt grateful to be the one here with them through it all.
Forgiveness is not easy, yet it is required of us to forgive all men. My internal checklist of forgiveness did not end that night, just like it didn’t end on my knees in my closet when Emmett died. These were merely the first steps in a series of bleachers I had yet to climb. My heart and soul still had miles to run before they would catch up . . . but it was a sweet, tender mercy to read the words I had been longing to hear.
Heavenly Father knows that sometimes our pinnacles are greater than we can handle alone. That is why he sent us a Savior. I didn’t have to carry around this pain. It was not mine to bear all by myself. There will always be a burden around each of our necks in one way or another. There will always be another hill to climb before we can reach the peace at the end of the road. Our journeys can sometimes feel unbearable. We might feel like we have been abandoned, overlooked, or that we are insignificant or alone. We are never alone.
I know that every word in those letters was not just a gift from Emmett, it was a blessing from my Heavenly Father, who knew exactly what I was feeling. He had been there before I was, and now He was there for ME. I know He had been watching me and wishing He could take away my pain. He cannot take away our pain . . . but He will give us little glimmers of His love. He will send us blessings in those moments that will be the most valuable for us. For me, my hope came in envelopes stamped with love from all the Heavenly beings who were cheering me on, and I knew now, that even Emmett believed in me. That dream was the beginning of a journey that I now knew I wasn’t taking alone.