Regrets Begone

A good friend asked me, “Honestly, do you think you’re the first person to have regrets after losing a loved one?”

Of course, I’m not the only one. Regrets are universal and to be expected. Yet there is also the expectation and urging to let them go.

I’ve returned to this regret stage many times in my grieving process, now in it a little over a month since the loss of my father. Just when I feel I’ve made progress, it rears its ugly head. Because I was my dad’s primary caregiver, I suppose it is only natural that these regrets surface and I feel the need to own them. And especially because I never saw him again after his sudden heart attack, his death felt surreal like it never happened. It might even seem more normal to have regrets under these circumstances; I may be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t.

After his death, I read an article that suggested I list my regrets and then weigh in on whether on not they were truly valid. My itemized list of regrets, real or imagined, was three pages long before I decided to stop, knowing deep down it was self-punishing and negative. I’m not sure what the point of this exercise was really.

While many of these regrets may have been isolated thoughts taken out of the context of real life circumstances or truly couldn’t be helped unless I was perfect, living in a perfect world, they remained. I will spare you all the details, but just say the scope ranged from the management and quality of my dad’s care to an analysis of the priorities in my life. Death has done a number on me.

I was overwhelmed and shut my notebook and haven’t returned to that list since.

The senior population, who included some of my dad’s friends, had cautioned me, “Don’t. Even. Go. There,” with finger wagging included. My mother promised me, “I don’t want ANYONE to do this when I die.” She was most convincing. She has told me to distract myself and think of something else, immediately.

Lose the thought. Not so simple.

There is this lingering pull to resist letting go. Are the regrets keeping the reality of the death at bay? It has occurred to me that processing these regrets over and over may keep my dad more present even if the focus is on the past. I know that makes very little sense.

The truth is I wouldn’t want my dad regretting anything about his life, wherever he is. What would be the purpose of that? The same should go for me and the living.

The three-page list I wrote is now just one big blur of regret. I actually think that’s progress. Soon, I hope I can kick those regrets to the curb and replace them with loving memories only. Regrets begone.

My good friend, who wanted to remain anonymous, offered this beautiful poem to me. I wanted to share it because it gave me such comfort. Maybe there is someone else out there who needs to read this now. I hope it helps.

When I pass

When I pass,
Things might seem amiss,
No more phone calls, or emails,
Or a welcoming kiss

When I pass,
Cry not for me please,
Instead, think of our lives,
And all the fond memories

When I pass,
Oh please don’t you fret,
Wipe the tears from your eyes,
And live free of regret

When I pass,
And enter God’s gate,
You will see me again,
Take your time I will wait

When I pass,
Know this for it’s true,
There wasn’t a day in your life,
That I didn’t love you

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59 thoughts on “Regrets Begone

      1. Why don’t you post some of the really fond memories you have. I’d love to read some. When my Uncle was dying, my dad and I told my dad I’d drive him down to Florida to visit ( from Cleveland ) so we could say goodbye. I had a brand new car and said “as long as you don’t smoke in my car” – Dad kept a journal of the trip, and I later found his first entry. Made it two hours without a cigarette.

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      2. I would like to post some good memories. I’d say it’s about time I do that. That’s funny about your dad and his smoking. Too bad about your new car. Oh, well. At least you got a great journal out of it.

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  1. The fact that you now regret the list of regrets you wrote seems a positive sign that you are indeed moving on. But regret is human nature, so don’t beat yourself up. I had regrets after my grandparents died, and I know my husband had regrets after his parents died. The best we can do is make the most of our time in the here and now with those we love, thereby hopefully preventing regret down the road.

    That poem is really lovely.

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  2. There’s processing what you could’ve done better, and there are regrets. The latter is beating yourself up— not productive, not going to change the past, and not going to help anyone but scar you as if the scar will serve as a memory to not repeat the mistakes (a very crude reminder).

    Writing the list down might help to actually process things, as opposed to using them as ammo.

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    1. People say to dwell on them is just putting negative energy into your life and serves no good aim. It’s a tough one. It’s true having them won’t change anything. Maybe it was good to write it all down. I can look at it later maybe and see how I’ve moved on. It’s something I gotta do. Thanks, Adam.

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  3. Hi Amy. I agree that regret is just a source of negative energy. You can’t change the past, but you can accept it and make your future your chance to be the best you can be. Writing this post with the intention to help others is an example of that, and definitely shows you are moving forward. Sending positive thoughts and love to you all along the way 🙂

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    1. Exactly, Kelly. I’m glad you said that about my post. I know what it’s like to be searching for answers. Early on, I read a few accounts of people dealing with grief and I found it really helpful. It’s one thing to read advice, another to see it through someone’s eyes who is it experiencing it. So, I hope someone can gain from it. Also, I think it’s my way to show myself that I’m making strides. Maybe I can look back and pat myself on the back. It sure helps to have the encouragement. Thanks for all the positive thoughts and love! I appreciate it! 🙂

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  4. Amy, so sorry you lost your Father. I would agree with the advise to stay busy and focus on fond memories. I would add that if you were your Father’s primary caregiver you should also be able to focus on what a wonderful gift that was to him, not everyone has someone help them in that situation. I believe in the power of listing things and writing about them. Hey, that’s why we blog! I would suggest that you should spend as much time listing the things you are happy and proud of doing. List the things you did that helped you connect more to your Father during that time. My father passed away last December and I do not live near him, so I was unable to be that person for him. My brother and sisters were. It was difficult for them. He was very unhappy with his loss of freedom due to illness and age, and took that out on them frequently. I’m sure they are questioning things they did in his best interest. It is not an easy thing to do and you should give yourself credit for facing that difficult task. Focus on the effort and the good intentions, focus on the fond memories, and think about what you would think of one of your children that did the same for you.

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    1. Eric, first let me say how sorry I am for your loss. Thanks for your thoughts for me, knowing I am sure you are still going through your own grieving process. So, I appreciate you taking the time. I feel like as more time passes, it becomes a little less sad, but more real at the same time. That doesn’t make sense, but then not a lot does right now. Thanks for your positive attitude regarding his care. I wish now (regret) I had more help. In many ways, my dad seemed okay to me. I think because I was so close, I didn’t see it the way my siblings might have. The truth is with the heart there may not have been anything we could have done to prevent his actual heart attack. He has had a serious heart condition for almost thirty years. Maybe I need to look at all the years he was with us. And you’re right, I was with him during these last years of his life and for that I am thankful. I wish you the best, Eric. If I can help you, please let me know.

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  5. I think there’s a rather simple you should follow when you start going “there.” Simple to state, harder to follow. But ask yourself this simple question, “Is this what my dad would want me to be doing?” I have no doubt what the answer to that question is and I think you know the answer as well. Like I said, I get that it’s simpler for me to state that then it is to follow the advice, but that’s all I have to offer you. And a virtual hug, of course, and the offer that if you ever needed an ear to vent to …

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    1. Mark, I have asked this exact question. You know what the answer is, don’t you? My dad wouldn’t want any of us to be wasting our time on regretting anything. He wasn’t one for regrets! It’s getting a bit easier to focus on something else…I always have something to occupy my mind. I’ve also started running again. I usually think of nothing when I run! That’s a good thing. Thanks for that hug! And your advice is perfect. It makes sense to me. Thanks for taking the time to offer it.

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      1. I knew you knew what the answer was. And that’s why it’s not as simple as I suggest. We can know the answers to all sorts of questions, but putting those answers into action is frequently much more difficult than coming up with the answers. I know this to be true. 😉

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      2. Right, Mark. I think it’s common for the mind to get stuck in unhealthy thinking, too. I’m trying to steer away from that. It definitely helps to keep this thought out front! Thanks for that. 🙂

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  6. Hi Amy, I’m glad to see you here today, my friend. That poem present from your friend is quite beautiful and very striking in its truth about love between those who remain and those who’ve left us. I hope reading it and sharing it here lightens your load.

    About those regrets, the list, that feeling that lingers still a month after your dad’s sudden heart attack. I think you should take that list and talk about it loud and proud and hard and fierce, scream it out or whisper it, to somebody close, a professional, or just to yourself. I think if you air them out, say them, give them volume, cry or wail or laugh or stare, feel how they make you feel when you hear them all in a row out loud, it could help you reconcile them. That’s my thought for this evening, Amy. Be well. I’m here for you in thoughts.

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    1. Thanks, Mark. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem. It truly did lighten my load. I took a time out to breathe.
      I hadn’t considered even looking at the list again, but maybe I should as you suggest and do something with it. Talk about it or yell about it. Get it out my system. It still lingers in my mind, although it is a little foggy at the moment. I will give it some thought. I know my sisters are also really struggling with their own regrets, different from mine, so maybe I should talk to them, too. Thanks so much for being here, Mark. I appreciate it.

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      1. You, your sisters and an expert on the subject or at least somebody who went through something similar a while ago would be a good room to be in, Amy. It helped me a decade ago to talk to my sisters after my father, the second of our parents, went to his heart attack, and we were in various stages of mental mess.

        And, you’re welcome.

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      2. It definitely helps to talk to my family. Everyone is back to their lives so it’s harder to find time to talk. Maybe I’ll see an expert if I feel like I need more. We’ll see. I’m open to the possibility. Thanks.

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  7. Amy, just do whatever it is that you need to do to work through your grief. This was a profound loss and you’re hurting. Possibly, on some level, writing that list of regrets was cathartic in the moment. There’s not one single set of rules that you’re supposed to follow to reach acceptance. It just takes time to reach that point. I miss my dad, too. Being an orphan has made my siblings and I much closer.

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    1. Virginia, thanks for reminding me that there are no rules to grieving. You get through it and then what…you live with it. I’m having a hard time feeling this is now what my life is. Eventually, I hope to get there to accept it. I will always miss him. That won’t change. His death has brought us together. I do feel that already. That has been a good thing.

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      1. Your loss was so sudden. I think that compounds the grief. You will never forget him, but over time your pain won’t feel so raw. How my mother shed her mortal coil was agony. She suffered a massive stroke that left her a shell of herself. Nine years later she died. That was very hard on her husband and kids. If she had awareness of her plight, she would have been horrifed. She had been a very active, iindependent, snarky woman needing 24 hour care because she was left paralyzed and mute. She no longer recognized my siblings or me when we visited. But had that stroke killed her quick, I would have been devastated, but nine years of someone near and dear lingering is very hard.

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      2. Virginia, thanks for sharing that with me. I can’t imagine nine years of watching someone suffer. That would be devastating. Death all around sucks. Even something in between would be hard. All of it is. Many older folks tell me that they want to go quickly. I guess there is some solace in that. I always thought I would say goodbye to my dad in a hospital while he was being medicated. Who’s to say that would be any easier? Death, like life, is unpredictable and messy. Especially emotionally. My mom wasn’t herself for three weeks due to medication and a fall. We thought she had a mini stroke, but supposedly it was the medication that made her delirious. Anyway, that was a brief glance and what it might be to lose her mentally. I can see how difficult that would be for her and everyone else. I’m sorry you had to endure that.

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      1. I knew it was our ocean. Pismo is one of the best. Go to the beach, the greatest therapy. Regrets are painful. All the best of health to you and your family as you move on.

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  8. Lovely poem. The only important thing is love. Regret is a natural feeling to have. I certainly felt it. I was just saying to my husband how I wish I had gotten to know my dad so much more but I was so young when he suddenly passed. My other big regret is I didn’t get to say goodbye to him. I wish I had been there with him when he died so he wasn’t alone in the hospital. I know now to forgive myself for something I had no control over but it’s a subtle ache I feel in my heart. I know my dad knows how I feel about him and he knows how much I loved him and truly — that is ALL that matters.

    The biggest thing I learned when he died was that grief has no rules. I found that if I just allowed myself to feel whatever emotion was welling up inside me helped tremendously. I had anger, profound sadness, shock, denial. Be good to yourself, Amy and trust you will find your way through.

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    1. I’m glad you like the poem. 🙂 Thanks, Darla, for your excellent advice. I think it’s healthy to feel all those emotions that swim that through me at any given time. I didn’t get say goodbye either. I do know how you feel about that one. What you say is tremendously comforting…”I know my dad knows how I feel about him and he knows how much I loved him and truly — that is ALL that matters.” That is all that matters in the end. I know deep down he loves me and life is never perfect. People are flawed, always. I just need to nurture that love that is inside of me. Listen to it and let it guide me and give me strength. Thanks for being here, Darla, and for all your support. xox

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  9. You know Amy, four years post loosing my father I am still to this day having what you are wrestling with. Have I moved on, or is it now and then that I have regrets. I think that for some it completely lifts in the remainder of a lifetime. But for others as I have observed with my family members, they met the acceptance far more easily than I have. I’m not sure if regrets is a good label I can stamp on myself. I believe it is something else but I don’t have a proper word for it. Subconscious pain running like a program in the back of my mind is ever present. I had a completely different relationship with my dad than my brothers did. I saw him differently than my male siblings. I resigned to the fact that indeed I was a daddy’s girl quietly in agreement with just me and dad. That’s what I think is happening, I got robbed and I should have stopped it or found a way to protect him and I couldn’t. But for you Amy please know that you have done the most wonderful thing for your dad, and you can own that now. Through the course of time it is then that you will have the peace of knowing you were there for him through it all, and you will continue to be there for him.

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    1. Sally, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you thinking about me and my family throughout this difficult time. I feel like my brothers have accepted this a lot more easily than me and my sisters. It could be that they grieve in a different way, not that they’re not grieving. Their relationships, all our relationships, are different than the one I had with my father. We all have different things that have shaped our relationships. As far as feeling robbed, I can relate. It helps me if I let go of the things I can’t control, in general. We can’t control most things and certainly what happens in other people’s lives, and probably least of all, death. I hope that you can work through that pain. Know that you were there for your dad in the only way that you could there and know that he loves you. Like you said. Sending my love to you, Sally. Take care of yourself.

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      1. I am glad I got to read your reply. Thank you for your kind words, as we now share something in common. You have lifted my spirits today. Kind of a nice feeling to say you are a “spirit lifter.”

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  10. once again you have touched something that feels like I am hearing myself speak. regrets are an inevitable part of your process (and mine’s, and everyone’s) and of course your dad would not want you to linger on the sad/unhappy parts of your relationship. Honor what you are feeling and then leave the notebook closed. there is no Monday morning quarterbacking for death – just a slow process of awareness and acceptance.

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    1. I appreciate that this touches you and hope it helps you work through what you’re experiencing. We are not alone in this, even though it may feel like that at times. There is no Monday morning quarterbacking for death – ain’t that the truth? So many things in life are about getting through until it’s done, it’s over…not this one! I think I will be ready to accept it all when I feel stronger. With time and whatever it takes to get through and face it. Hugs to you.

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  11. Lovely heartfelt poem, Amy. Good friend indeed. It’s hard to not live with regrets and harder to live a life in in which you prevent regrets. Does that make sense? Bah. Just hold onto the memories and your love, and be peaceful, your Dad is.

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    1. Hmm…why I think it does make sense. I’ll have to stare at it for a few more minutes. 🙂 No, I get it! Better to not look back and live without regret. Isn’t that the way it should be? I love that you say my Dad is peaceful. Yes, that is what I’ll think. Thank you, Audra. (Maybe I’ll write a poem about regret now.) 🙂

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  12. I still can’t write about this — my Dad left this Earth two years ago. I admire that you can so eloquently, Amy. I have regrets as well, I think that’s just human to do so. I do talk to him, out loud, sometimes when I’m driving down the road or walking or whatever when I’m alone. I tell him my regrets–that helps me. But I know for certain that he wouldn’t want me to feel that way. These life experiences teach us to appreciate the people and things that matter so much more than we did. As every wonderful and heart wrenching episode we go through, throughout our brief time here, there’s a reason and we grow and learn from them. I wish you peace and know it does get easier over time. The poem was very touching!

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    1. It helps me to write about it, Brigitte, as it would to talk about it. I find it easier to write about than talk about. I tried voicing aloud my regrets to him, but I haven’t done that in a while. Maybe I’ll try that again. I think what you say is right on. We are here for a short time really and I do feel our life is meant to be learned from. And then growing from experiences and our mistakes, because we are bound to make a few. Of course, we will. I continue to process and days feel sad, but I’m moving along. It helps to talk with others who have gone through this, so I thank you for thoughtful comments. I’m glad you like the poem.

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  13. One of my closest friends lost, in the space of a week, a cousin he was very close to to leukemia and his dog to old age. He’s down in the dumps. He keeps repeating over and over how all this death has done a number on him and made him think long and hard about life itself. I think it caused a seismic shift in his thinking. A positive one. Hope you can turn this thing around.

    You should take that list of regrets, add “made a list of regrets” to the bottom and set it on fire. It’d be cathartic.

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    1. Sorry to hear about your friend. That’s rough. A good friend of my dad’s told me that my dad’s death marked the end of a chapter in her life. She is moving away and taking a new job. A real shift. Death has that effect on people. She told me she has lost too many people around her and it’s too sad. All my siblings got to leave and I’m still here with all the reminders, as I will be for some time. I have to make peace. I think my shift in thinking will be how to make the most of my days and that usually means reaching out to other people and giving more of myself. Life will have much meaning that way. I had been so inward focused right before my dad died. No reason, just that was the path I was on. It makes me rethink that a lot.

      I love this idea! I just may have to burn the list. It’s so interesting. Everyone has different ideas about what to do with this list!

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  14. What a beautiful heartfelt post. Thank you for sharing this. Regrets. Regrets. A long-time long-distance friend of mine pointed to my blog and said that I must be living such a meta life right now, able to see the big picture, the important things, because I often write about those things. But I said that I write about them because I’m obsessed with how often I’m not seeing the big picture or most important things.
    The bottom line seems to be that you loved your Dad, and he knew it. And you are brilliant to realize that you likely hold onto regret because it seems one of the last things “of him” you have to hold. I’m wishing you those days when the good memories are what strike you on most days rather than the regrets, which he surely would want you to crush into sand and release.
    How about making a list of all your favorite memories, maybe even putting them into a photo book on Snapfish. Or even making a list of all the things you’re glad you shared with him…
    Good luck and hugs.

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    1. Jen, thank you for this. You always have such words of wisdom. I would think that you get the big picture, too. Sometimes, writing about it releases that knowledge in a way we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. I say things like why have you gone and I wasn’t ready…I think moving on from blame or beating myself up. It goes up and down and sideways. I like the idea of crushing the regrets into the sand. Maybe I do need a “farewell to my regrets” party. That’s not a bad idea. Ceremonies can be good for closure for all sorts of things! I do need to focus on the favorite memories and the gifts my dad gave us. Thanks, Jen. Hugs!

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  15. I am sorry for your loss Amy. After my mother passed away this last December I stuck me one day that I am now a mid life orphan. I call my sister and aunt a lot more now than I did before, the feeling of loss does not go away but there are always memories to hold on to. Death ends a life, it doesn’t end a relationship. Some years after my father had passed away I wrote a blog entry based on what my daughter has said then which I’d now like to share with you http://tinyurl.com/mkoangh

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    1. Thank you. I so sorry for your loss, too. I appreciate you sharing your post with me. I like what you say here ,death ends a life, but not the relationship. Living with memories and passing traditions down, our loved ones stay with us. And your three-year-old said it so truly…all dads die. We all do. It’s the cycle of life, but oh, is it tough to accept. It’s getting a little easier. It’s nice to have written something that can you return to for comfort. That is why I am continuing to write about this. Thanks so much for taking the time to read it.

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