Regrets are bitter-bright emotional remnants that hit us with pain and sadness at each recall.
When I was younger, I ran around screaming that I would live my life in such a way as to be free of regrets. My image of the rocking chair on the porch did not have me sitting there feeling bad about the past. I perceived a more enlightened view – one in which I understood that the life I led was my own, built to create the individual I was intended to be. There was no room in the picture for sadness and regret over the past. The past was simply the pavement of the road to the future.
In that vein of thought, I quoted the catchword of the day, “Carpe Diem,” and determined that I would live bravely. I would attempt things I was sure to fail at, I would try things that seemed unusual and “not for me,” and I would be courageous when my instincts told me to fear. This philosophy led to some interesting exploits and adventures, especially during my twenties, as I rampaged through the world on my glorious mission.
But, I would “LIVE!” And, of course, I did live loudly, boldly, tenderly, and attentively for many years. I was very good about writing letters, remembering to send birthday cards, and doing minor niceties for those I knew and loved. I cooked Thanksgiving dinners for the neighbors, took in several stray and injured animals, and donated to numerous charities and worthwhile causes. I also lived vibrantly loud. My hair was the whitest-blonde available in a bottle, my magazine writing was a battle against injustice or a call-to-arms for the downtrodden, my poems spoke of grief and loss from the depths of my soul, and my relationships included people from every scale of life and living. I was trying new things, tackling new fears, overcoming old phobias, and living wide-open and unashamedly. (Dying my hair black was courageous, but BAAAD! And maybe I should have waited on the tattoo…and I probably shouldn’t have moved to Florida….) My internal fears became a propelling force moving me ever forward on the road to becoming…I was LIVING!
And, then, when I was in my late thirties, my grandmother died. It had been several years since I’d seen her. She developed Alzheimer’s disease right after our last visit. She was the second grandmother to experience the devastating disease. And, me….Miss. Courageous, I hadn’t been able to deal with the loss a second time. I had stayed away because the pain of who she had become in the illness overpowered my memories of who she’d been healthy. I needed to have the memories of the healthy, strong, wonderful grandmother she’d been. The only woman I’d ever known who I truly believed knew every answer that mattered. I lived at the other end of the state then, I was busy, life was moving forward – it was easier to pretend she was at home and life was normal for her, as it had been. She was frozen in a happy time and place in my mind.
Burying her was not as difficult as understanding that she was gone. There would never be another letter from her advising me to do the right thing and to trust God. She would never cook pigs-in-a-blanket for me again. I would never be able to drop by and talk with her about my confusion, or enjoy the beauty of her humming as we were hanging out laundry. Those things were over. In reality, they had been over for years, but they had remained a memory-possibility in my mind until the casket disappeared into the ground that rainy day.
Death has a way of ending the lies you tell yourself. It also has a way of reminding you of your own truth. I left her funeral with a sense of regret that I’d never known before. I was ashamed of my cowardice, my unwillingness to overlook my own pain to be there for her. The self-reproach was only made worse as I realized she would have forgiven me, would have understood and not been angry or hurt at my inability to see her so sick. She had a strength within that enabled her to love and forgive others unlike anyone else I’ve ever known. I was her granddaughter, my mind screamed; I should have been that strong too.
And there it was…regret.