A friend’s e-mail this morning solidified my intention for my post today, Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day if this is your day! Feel the love.
One of the main elements that just ate at me when my father first passed away and in years to follow was regret in feeling I could have tried harder with my father. I distinctly remember, months after my dad had died, sitting in the car with my boyfriend at the time after we’d just picked up Chinese food for dinner. Before I could even exit the car, I was flooded with tears and hiccupping speech, saying things like “Why didn’t I just get Chinese food with my dad more? Why couldn’t I just get over it and visit him at the bar where he usually was? Why didn’t I visit him more?” and then sinking into utter regret and sadness for the next hour or so.
We all “could” have done and “could” do better. Sure. But one of the biggest suggestions I’ve given to people struggling in some way currently with a father, mother or other family member still in this physical plane is to say what you need to say do what will yield the fewest regrets for yourself. Regret, while for most cannot be avoided completely, is the killer for many in the grieving process and one of those nagging aspects even years later. I can easily go there but choose to shift my thinking and instead somehow talk to or honor my father and other loved ones I’ve lost.
Whether we’ve lost someone suddenly (that “no notice” feeling) or had some time with a dying loved one, regret still somehow can creep in. An important point here is that saying what needs saying and doing what needs doing for your greatest peace doesn’t mean you necessarily resolve everything or even anything in the relationship, but your peace and aim for no regrets are healthy goals. On the last Father’s Day I had with my own father, a man struggling with alcoholism and women and relationships with his children, I didn’t know it was my last Father’s Day with him. But after much therapy and increased personal power, I mustered up enough certainty and necessity to tell him, “Dad, sometimes you were really a sh*tty father.” Yes, on Father’s Day. His response? “I know.” But from that point on, I was lucky and admit that our relationship only improved, and somehow it was out, and we were okay—and still imperfect. There were even more “I love you’s” and more phone calls. Yes, I lost him within the year and didn’t know I would, but I had made a huge step in telling him what I needed and felt such relief.
Not an ideal story, and many of us have those. And I sincerely loved my father, warts and all. Now that he’s on the other side, he is such a guide to me, and more than regret I feel gratitude and love—and even a lot more understanding. We’re all so friggin’ human, and sometimes just by saying and doing what we need (even if it’s silence or inaction) that brings us the most—finally, if anything, we have peace within, which is the key to so much in this life. Right?
I’ve learned that we can’t beat ourselves up, getting stuck in the “oh, I shoulda-woulda-coulda done that.” Two weeks or so before my dad died, he’d invited me and my siblings to a Milwaukee Wave (soccer) game, but I had to work. Something inside told me I should maybe see if I could switch with someone, as this invitation was rather rare and precious, but I missed the game and time with Dad. I’m glad my brother was able to share that time with him, though. But that’s an important thing I learned: There is always more time we could have had and time we especially wish we’d had. In trying to sincerely live in a way when we’re in integrity, though, we minimize the regret, no matter what the relationship (even if, like with some of my friends, there is minimal contact and some really tough stuff for serious reasons).
Whatever your relationship with your living or deceased loved ones, enjoy what you can, realize the important things and live for the fewest regrets possible, no matter what that means for you. I just can’t resist: With the theme of regret and practicing discretion, I need to leave with some words from one of my father’s favorites, singer Kenny Rogers: “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em/Know when to walk away and know when to run.” Don’t hold onto—just fold on—the regret.
© 2011 Erika M. Schreck. All rights reserved.