This past week a close friend of mine lost his mom. She was in the hospital recovering from an illness, but her prognosis was good and the staff was ready to send her home. A few hours later a blood clot took her life.
In a tribute he wrote for her funeral, my friend described an epiphany he had while attending the funeral of his grandfather some years earlier. As he looked around the church and saw all the sadness and emotion, he thought: “I wonder how much of this is grief and how much of this is regret?”
As he reflected on that, he realized that he would one day be burying his own parents. When that day came, he knew there would be plenty of grief, but he didn’t want that grief to be “stained and pained” by regret as well. So he got very intentional about those relationships. He invested time, effort and money to make sure they were as good as they could be. And when he got word about his mom, here’s how he described his feelings:
“Pure grief…uncontaminated by regret.”
Yes, he felt incredible pain, but the pain was not compounded by feelings of lost opportunities and missed chances. If anything, the grief was softened by the many joyful memories that were a byproduct of his close relationship with his mom.
The Life Change
“I wonder how much of this is grief and how much of this is regret?” When I read that statement, it stopped me cold. I thought of painful losses in my own life and realized that, almost without exception, part of what I was feeling was regret. Sometimes, MOST of what I was feeling was regret. How about you? I’m guessing you have one or two examples in your own life as well. We all get plenty of “at bats” with pain.
- The pain we feel when a loved one dies
- The pain we feel when our kids grow up and leave the house
- The pain we feel when a relationship ends
- The pain we feel when a close friend moves away
- The pain we feel when our health changes, placing limits on what we can do
- The pain we feel with missed opportunities or risks not taken
- The pain we feel when life draws to a close
We don’t have our kids, spouse, friends, family, health, youth, jobs, money or opportunities forever. For this one brief life, we get to be a steward of those things. They ebb and flow as we live, but one day they’re gone. For most of us, that will happen gradually. For others, it may happen all at once. We can’t control the loss, nor can we can control the grief we feel because of it. But we can control the regret by doing everything possible to make the most out of our opportunities. Are you doing that? Will you do that? The holidays are here and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make the most out of your time with friends and family. The New Year is coming and you’ll get a chance to start fresh and focus on what matters. To paraphrase Mary Oliver, make the most out of your one wild and precious life. Then, when time closes the door on something, you can be sad to see it go, but so glad that it happened to begin with.
Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thanks for following along in 2016 and stay tuned for much more in 2017.