During my ten years of assisting families with making burial arrangements, I listened to countless expressions of regret by loved ones on behalf of the deceased. “I regret that he didn’t, she didn’t, I didn’t, we didn’t, or they didn’t.” This remorse that the deceased didn’t get a chance to do something that they always wanted to do brings sadness and disappointment to the family and loved ones left behind. They always wanted to travel, she wanted to start her own business, he wanted to go fishing when he retired, they wanted to move to Florida¸ she wanted to go back to school, she wanted to bungee jump in New Zealand, she was going to start a healthy eating and exercise program, he wanted to cut back work hours to spend more time with family, he wanted to write a book, she wanted to take piano lessons, we wanted to plan a family reunion, she wanted to ride a motorcycle cross country…. the list goes on.
Regret, not to be confused with guilt, is a normal and natural emotion of grief; but, you must take action to get through this unchartered territory. Time Magazine says that on average it takes five to eight years to recover from a devastating loss. With support and the right action steps, it doesn’t have to take that long. Yes, acknowledge that you’ve lost someone that had great meaning and significance in your life; and, maybe that special one didn’t get to do all the things that they wanted to do, or that you thought they should do. But, now you must take action to move yourself forward. If you do nothing, nothing will happen and you will remain stuck in regret. Like having a flat tire, you can change it and move on to your destination; or, you can do nothing, and stay stuck on the side of the road.
One very important thing to know is that there is no right or wrong way to travel this road. No right way or wrong way to grieve. No set time period or season to grieve. No GPS or MapQuest to avoid wrong turns or dead ends. Each of us is unique and our grief experience will be unique. Even siblings losing a parent will still grieve individually. No matter what the reason or cause of death, to get through the pain of grief, you must go through it. Some cry, others find things to laugh about. Some keep the company of friends, others choose to be alone. Some frequent the cemetery, others choose not to. Some eat more frequently than usual, others don’t have an appetite and must be forced to eat. Some seek support, others feel they don’t need it.
On the note of support, I strongly encourage it. Emotions of grief usually don’t mean that something is wrong with you. They mean that your life as it was has changed, and you have not been able to adjust or accept the way life is now without your loved one. There are options for everyone. Some that I recommend are grief support groups, grief coaching, online/social media grief groups, spiritual/pastoral counseling, and psychological counseling/therapy, if necessary. There are many benefits to using the tools and techniques that you will learn from these resources. In my grief coaching practice, I’ve found that when you share your grief experience, so often you actually help another person who is grieving. What a meaningful win-win act of sharing.
Here is one way to say goodbye to your loved one and help you on your own journey. Accept that you cannot redo the past, change the past or right the wrongs of the past; however, you are able to create your own legacy… one that will leave “no regrets” for your loved ones. How do you begin to do that? Decide to say Yes! to the gift of now. Everything in life is temporary, including life itself. You’ve now experienced this first-hand. Life is precious, yet so fragile. Accept that the past is gone, the future is not here, so all you have is NOW. It is a gift.
This is my challenge to you. This exercise will help you to shift from grief to gratitude. If today you are given a diagnosis of six months to one year to live, what are three things that you would do? Make a list of those three things.
Now, if self-love was not on your list, make that number one and move the others down (it’s okay to have four things on your list). Next, get busy with action steps to start making these things happen NOW. I charge you with the obligation to live your life for the rest of your life! Leave a legacy of “No Regrets.”
Keep moving forward!