On Regret and New Beginnings

My favorite pic of Dad.

My favorite pic of Dad.

The anniversary of my dad’s death is September 14. During his last weeks, our tiny family was strained beyond the tipping point. Dying isn’t easy. The soul, our very essence, does not easily part from our flesh.

Watching someone you love die? I think that’s even harder.

There’s no guide book. There’s no YouTube video on surviving grief either.

Because really, nobody knows how.

Though I’ll always treasure those last moments I spent with Dad, there will always be an element of regret associated with that time in my life. I’ll always question myself, wondering why it took me so long to realize how sick he was, hoping that Dad realized my love for him even in the gritty reality of our reversed roles.

I think that one regret I’ll always have is that before he became sick, it felt like time was plentiful–unlimited and slow-moving. I remember being annoyed with his habit of coming over early when I invited him to dinner. I wasn’t ready to see him yet. The house needed to be vacuumed, the dishes in the sink washed. When he arrived early, I always was a bit irritated that he couldn’t seem to respect my idea of punctuality. If I said, “Dinner’s at 7:00,” he’d knock on the door at 6:40.

I can’t believe that used to bug me. Now, eleven years later, I regret that attitude I had. Like Dad was going to be around forever. Like time was just standing still. I hate that it took him getting sick for me to open my eyes to the swiftness of time.

I know better now. Don’t we all? My baby boy? A man child. My little girls? Grown-up women with jobs and classes and boyfriends. My hubby? Getting a little silver around his temples and me. Well.

I asked some friends to ask me what their regrets were. Here are the most repeated ones.

1. “Not believing in myself.” So many times, we only hear the echoes of those negative voices from our past influence our present which becomes our future.

2. “Not taking chances or opportunities given to me.” Sometimes we just need to take a leap of faith, because certain opportunities (or people) are worth the risk. It’s my experience that opportunities rarely present themselves at a convenient time. There’s almost never a perfect time to take the great job, travel the world, have a baby. If you wait too long, it just slips away.

3.”Working too much.” We only have 24 hours a day, and even then the minutes fly. I’m not dismissing the importance of a good work ethic. It’s just that, in all likelihood, we sometimes put our work “family” above our real family, when the reality is that no matter how important we are at work, we are SO replaceable. But to your husband, your kids–there’s only one you and there’s no good substitute.

4. “Caring too much what others thought” or its ugly sister, “Working too hard to please others.” This is, I’d like to point out, an almost entirely female statement. It’s so easy to slide into the trap of not saying “no” because we want others to think well of us.

5. “Letting addiction/alcoholism take over my life.” This one is not so nearly black and white as it seems, because addiction wears many masks. Can an addiction to video games be every bit as damaging as alcoholism, excessive spending or a gambling addiction? Absolutely, if your whole world revolves around a game to the detriment of your health and relationships. When a pretend world is more important than the real world, it’s time to take stock. When I spend hours wasting time watching other people’s lives on reality TV while my flesh-and-blood family is right here within reach? Same thing. What about when I write for hours, giving others encouragement for raising their teenagers–obsessing about my so-called “ministry” to others, when every minute I do so at the expense of my own family time, if I’m not careful…damaging.I’m a woman with an addictive personality–predisposed by genetics and encouraged by my own excesses. Regrets in the making.

But the good thing about regrets is this: once I realize I have something to regret, I can make a positive change. I can’t get that time back with my dad, but I can use that experience to remind myself that each moment, every second, even the seemingly mundane, has the opportunity to be a precious memory one day. I can let my regrets about dad’s last days drag me down, or I can learn from them, giving myself permission to forgive myself.

I can exchange my regret for a new chance, a fresh outlook.

After all, what is regret but joy in disguise?