Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Regret Factor Can Mess With Your Memories

Dear readers (all three of you, now listen up), you may recall a recent post in which I pondered the reason behind this creative effort. All past mental meanderings, grief issues and dog stories aside, there is more at stake here than initially meets the eye. I want people to read this and there’s good reason why.

I’m approaching retirement age but can’t collect all the huge Social Security funds earmarked for my golden years just yet. I’m not broke, but with a steady income of zero since my husband’s been gone, it doesn’t take a financial wizard to figure out that at this rate, I’m going to run out of money.

As a senior citizen looking to re-enter the job market for a few years, I have a vision of my dreaded future, wearing a blue vest adorned with lots of little pins, greeting Wal-Mart shoppers with forced cheer. My preference is to try to find my niche in the once-elite but now nearly extinct journalistic specialty field known as a syndicated columnist.

So this little blog o’mine is an attempt to revive a weekly column, “Between the Lines,” that I wrote during my heyday as a newspaper editor. I had many more devoted readers back then; I can name at least five off the top of my head, including two who weren’t related and three who are still living.

Of course I’d like to reach out to others who, like me, are coping with personal loss, undeniable aging, questionable sanity, potential addictions, suspected eating disorders, adult children living in their basements, peeping toms lurking beneath their windows, IRS confrontations looming, mildew spreading like wildfire on their shower curtains, pesky chin hairs sprouting in alarmingly larger numbers every day and a pack of dogs snoring in their beds every night. Yes, mine are all fairly common conundrums to which readers can relate, I’d say.

Should these intriguing dilemmas eventually peter out as hot topics, I have a vast reserve of untapped ideas to explore; whatever may happen to pop into my mind, out my fingers, onto my keyboard and thus into your brains. I apparently haven’t lost my gift of gab, a friend recently observed.

So this just might work. I could sit on my butt at home and make money by regaling readers with my take on just about everything. Well, theoretically. So, with that in mind, it’s time to get to my topic for today, a recent revelation I’d like to share with you about grief. All kidding aside now, everyone, and you two in the back row, stop messing around.

As I wade these days through the big sinkhole in the Grand Canyon of my life, I’ve made an observation: It’s very hard to deal with the loss of a loved one at any time, under any circumstances. Nobody can argue that. I’m convinced, however, that losing someone you love unexpectedly is a special kind of grief in a category of its own. It’s complicated due to what I call the Regret Factor.

I’m referring to, in my case for example, negative things I said to my late husband I shouldn’t have said, or positive things I wish I had said. I have a huge collection of regrettable conversations, for which I’m now powerless to make apologies or amends. In my head I can watch reels and reels of my own home movies, rewinding and replaying the worst dramatic scenes over and over again.

When the Regret Factor kicks in, you begin to see in retrospect that incidents you once thought so crucial were clearly only trivial: Why did I get so mad at him just because he left a wet towel on the bed? Formerly annoying habits begin to seem endearing: What wouldn’t I give to see his dirty socks on the bedroom floor again, carelessly tossed just inches shy of the clothes hamper, like always.

The Regret Factor can also make what was originally just a simple oversight now loom large in the past like an enormous dark cloud of neglect. How could I have let him leave that morning without telling him I loved him? Come to think of it, I didn’t even tell him goodbye.

Before you shrug your shoulders and say, “Hindsight’s 20-20; not much you can do about it now,” at least try doing this for me: Make sure today that someone you love knows how you feel about them. Tonight, should you be fortunate enough to find comfort in the arms of someone kind, count your blessings, my friends. Count your blessings. Or here’s an easy one: Is there a grudge you’ve been holding onto for too long? Drop it. It’s only a burden you don’t need.

If any of you will do any of this because of anything I write, then surely a rope of hope may appear for me to climb my way out of this sinkhole. Working together, maybe we could continue to spread love in ever-widening circles, like rings in a pond where a pebble has been dropped.

I believe that if we try hard enough, maybe we could even make an angel smile, and on the day I can feel that smile in my heart, that’s when my healing will have truly begun.


  1. I believe you have found a reason to live. If you can find a way to keep writing like this you can not only find your way through the tunnel of grief but help many others dealing with same. This is what I want to read. I don't want to hear about how someones tomatoes are doing this season. I want to feel the thread that binds me to you and to everyone else who is dealing with hard knocks (everyone). So proud of you. The most talented person in my family.. okay only one, anyway..
    Love you, Jess

  2. Anyway, I didn't mean the part about only one. there are lots of talented people in my family. Especially those reading this comment.

  3. I lost my son at 27. It been 11 years now and the regrets never quite go away.


Thanks for enabling my writing habit. I live for feedback.