This set of cards covers the research into the regrets of the dying. I look at them as a list of regrets not to have by the time I die and if I have them now to do what I can about them.
Part of this goes back to the underlying theme of control. If I am angry or sad about something, how much of that is under my control? Do I try and do something about the elements where I do have control or do I accept that events or actions were outside of my control and take a different perspective?
I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me
There’s a lot of this that resonates when considering how we grieve and whether we feel allowed to grieve. For bereaved parents a common theme is disenfranchised grief where we feel pressured to hide our grief and even our love for the babies we have lost to avoid upsetting others. If this is true now for the bereaved parents before us it has been worse.
It also applies to expectations around gender and grief. Living in a way that goes against my own set of values didn’t make me a stronger or better person. It made me unhappy and prevented me from being able to grieve fully and support my family. I’m no alpha male by any stretch of the imagination, I know the theory and I still fell into the ‘strong for my family’ trap. It did no one any good and it took a lot of work to undo the damage.
I hadn’t worked so hard
This one is related to the regret about courage. The need to fit in with expectation to prioritise work above all else evaporates in the face of mortality. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about working hard, it can be doing the wrong work.
For me, meaning in work is not a luxury it is essential wherever it can be found. If it can’t be found in work than I need to look elsewhere to find it. I wasted nearly a decade on a job that meant little to me due to my own toxic blend of low self-esteem and dumb pride.
When my sons died I realised what a waste it had all been and that something I had deluded myself into believing was outside of my control was very much in my control. In the wasteland of the aftermath of their deaths I needed something where I could regain some sense of control if I was to avoid spiralling into a deeper despair. When an opportunity came up to move rather than find 1000 reasons not to take it I took it and found myself in an infinitely better position for my skills, interest and mental health.
I’d had the courage to express my feelings
This is another one that will resonate with many of us that have felt unable or not allowed to express how we feel. It’s not just about grief and this is what is often missed. Losing our babies is undeniably a sad thing and it’s important that we feel able (when we are ready) to talk about that sadness and its impact on our lives. It’s not a one-off event but it’s not always sad all the time either. Sometimes it can even be funny. The death of our babies did not erase or negate their short lives. It’s important that we can talk of all those things to show the full range of experience and allow us to share the happy bits as well as the sad even if the two can often become inseparably entwined.
I’d stayed in touch with my friends more
I’ve reached that point now where in the rare occasions I do get to catch up with my friends we trip over the same cliche of “we really shouldn’t let it go so long next time” and then do exactly that. Part of my problem is that I see it as a bigger task than it really is, that a catch up has to be a huge monumental and therefore scheduled thing. It really isn’t but I get stuck in the self-defeating loop of I haven’t spoken to them in ages so it will be weird to get in contact so I won’t get in contact but I haven’t spoken to them in ages and so on. In taking this approach I’ve missed out on so much of their lives.
For a bereaved parent sometimes this cuts the other way, it maybe my friends that have lost touch. They may have not known what to say or have said the wrong things or they may have gone on to have the children we wanted so much and as time apart grew longer so did the distance between us. I still don’t have answers for this, it’s a judgement call on whether the friendship worth salvaging or whether what was said or done was unforgivable. This isn’t always a question that can be answered in the early, raw stages of grief but it’s one I’ve been thinking about as I reconsider how well I supported others in their time of need and where I too fell short.
I’d let myself be happier
That’s what this is about, not necessarily a happy-clappy rainbows and sunshine version of happiness but a reframing of what is important and what is worth spending my time and energy on. Part of it is making more conscious decisions rather than reacting so on one hand I don’t automatically close myself from opportunities or experiences but on the other that I don’t go along for conventions sake just to set myself on fire to keep others warm. A big part is also dealing with anger but also changing how I view the past. That’s a post in itself.
These are the regrets of the dying but they don’t have to be mine now. Recognising them allows me to be able to do something about it now whether that’s as simple and hard as keeping in touch or trying to do what I can to encourage and allow space for others to talk about their lost babies and work together to prevent further avoidable deaths and support those where that didn’t happen.