This is modified from a column I wrote for MidWeek four years ago. Today, I'm sitting with mom as I do a couple of days every week, as we face down the challenges of her declining health and creeping dementia. Regrets? I've had a few. But it's never too late to make things right.
I’ve been thinking lately about regret. There are times in your life when you stop to ponder these things and I guess I’m once again at that point.
It’s a good thing. Not because I think I have a whole lot to be sorry for, but because introspection is good for the soul. It can also help you retool something that’s wrong with your life.
My most recent epiphany came during a conversation with my mother. We don’t spend a lot of alone time together, so an hour in a restaurant chatting over ice tea and diet coke was unusual and—nice.
We don’t have that much in common, or at least I’ve always believed so. We don’t agree on religion. We are far apart on politics. We both are passionate about completely different things and always-- and carefully-- avoid all hot button issues when we’re together.
But on this day our conversation flitted from family to kids, to pets, to cooking. Mundane, boring, everyday stuff. Easy stuff.
And that’s when it sort of hit me—that’s enough. It’s more than enough.
At one point she looked at me and said, “I missed you.”
I understood. She wasn’t talking about the recent vacation I took. She was alluding to the years of separation from each other—both physical and emotional-- for reasons I won’t get into now because they aren’t relevant.
What’s relevant is--she missed me and I missed her.
Later that night I felt regret as I thought over our conversation. Why did I allow that chasm to develop? Why didn’t I try harder? How did we get to the point where a simple thing like having a drink together was a trigger for an epiphany?
And then (because I hate to wallow in negativity) regret was replaced by a different emotion.
Gratitude that I’m old enough now to see the wall built up between us, and young enough to be able to do something about it.
Why am I sharing this? I’m not a life coach or a guru. I certainly don’t consider myself wise. But perhaps I can be of service to some of you.
Please stop for a moment. I know you’re busy with your jobs and your families. I know you might be struggling financially. I know you may have profound disagreements with your parents or your siblings. And I know you may believe you have nothing in common anymore.
But think about it. Don’t you have enough in common to sit down and have a coke and a chat, even if it’s about nothing in particular? Can you share a meal—maybe cook it together? Can you stop waiting for them to reach out to you, and do the reaching instead?
People who say, "I've never regretted a thing," may be lying to themselves, just a little bit. Either that, or they've lived a perfect life. Who do you know who can claim that?
Regret is a necessary emotion. It makes you think, to feel and evaluate. It’s not a waste of your time if it prods you to change. Just don’t wait until it’s too late.