At first I didn’t regret a thing. Really. Not a single thing about David’s life or our marriage, not about a past argument or a moment when I annoyed him or a choice I made. No regrets. We had agreed on that early in our love together. We lived fully present to one another and to ourselves. We consciously created our lives together through our daily conversations, affection, thoughtfulness and ways of being. We planned, talked, dreamed, worked and designed our perfect life - the life we were actually living.
And then he died. Suddenly, unexpectedly at 31 years of age. On a sunny Thursday in late June. Gone. His heart. Just Gone.
I remember telling people, friends, my therapist - really anyone who would listen, that I had no regrets. Deep in my soul I knew that I had nothing to regret. I did not cause his death. I did not contribute to his death. He was happy. Extremely happy. We had just had our beautiful second baby boy. David was thriving at work. He loved the new house. Our lives were beautiful. His life was beautiful. What could I possibly regret?
A few months passed and then regret came calling.
It started as this niggling little voice that wondered with fear - could it have been the medicine he was taking? Those new antihistamines that I encouraged him to get from his doctor... Did that cause his death? I regret telling him to get that medicine. Maybe it was because I didn’t cook us enough vegetables, not enough leafy greens. I regret not being a better cook and nutritionist. Oh my God, did he die because I bought him the wrong deodorant or toothpaste?
I began to regret every decision. To dissect every choice.
Crazy. I know. But I went there. I went there to try to explain the unexplainable. Why did he die? How could this have happened? What could I have done to stop it from happening?
Regret became part of my grief journey. I regretted choices, actions, and words from my past. I also regret the future we would not be sharing. While regret may be an understandable and common part of the grief experience, I learned regret is destructive. My regrets created self doubt, judgement, and pain. Like a boat stuck circling in an eddy, regret trapped me painfully rewinding and reliving our most difficult moments.
When I’d say to myself “Oh, how I regret…” what I really felt was shame - nasty, mean-spirited, hard edged, and sharp. I confused my feelings of regret with a sense of responsibility - more responsibility than was humanly possible. I kept myself struggling with these feelings until finally I found a way through.
I began to find compassion for myself.
I learned to hold myself with grace and kindness rather than judgement and criticism. Compassion led me to self forgiveness and put me on the path away from regret. Learning to embrace my limited responsibility freed me to mourn the loss of my David.
Sure, I had made mistakes. Lots of them. I am human afterall. I used to annoy David every day by leaving my towel in his sink after my shower instead of hanging it up to dry. Oh, how that annoyed him. Sorry, Babe. And now I forgive myself without regret.
I could be twisted into knots of regret over the life we did not get to have together. Instead, I mourn the fact that David missed our boys growing up and our shared life together.
I know I am not responsible for his absence and once I discovered compassion for myself I was able to mourn authentically with courage in my heart.
Are you struggling with regret?
Is regret trapping you into being hard on yourself?
Remember to be gentle with you. Allow yourself the warm embrace of your own compassion.
I am here if you want to talk.