Regret is such a difficult thing.
Its been nearly two years since I was rocked by the death of a dear friend, a significant person in my life. It would be their birthday tomorrow.
We hadn’t been in touch for a number of years, but I’d always felt the sense of connection, and even more, the growing need to thank them for the time they’d spent with me. The discovery they were gone was made at exactly the same time I committed to contacting them again. I’d been writing to them at the time. I had missed them by just a month or two.
The shock was intense. I spiraled into a strange emotional place, struggling to process the memories and emotions that suddenly surfaced. I could not believe how raw my emotions felt, and how conflicted.
Grief is bad enough, but my feelings were magnified by regret. Regret that over the years I’d had opportunities to make contact and not taken them, had reason and not acted upon it, had been held back by misplaced pride, or fear of rejection.
Talking this through with two trusted friends helped me to gain some perspective, and I wrote, and wrote, discovering imagery and metaphor that helped me to gain insight into my feelings and into the events of the past.
Coping with all this was difficult. I had no option but to sit with this regret, I couldn’t deny its presence, I couldn’t make it go away. I had to simply sit with it, side by side, and then gradually take it inside me, to accept it as mine.
But regret was in no hurry, it sat heavily for at least a year. The difficulty lay in adjusting to the reality that there was no way to reconnect, no way to tell someone how I felt. They were gone and nothing would change that. It took a long time to accept that reality, to stop beating myself up for not acting sooner. But gradually the pain eased, writing helped.
I think there are some things that just take our brains a long time to adjust to. Memories that no longer fit with the present. Desires that have no way to be fulfilled. Neural pathways need to be reviewed, and rewired. It’s a process that happens slowly and I have been changed by it.
I learnt that regret can teach us about acceptance – accepting that I made the best decisions I could at the time – and though I may regret those decisions now, I can’t change them. My only choice was to accept – staying with the pain of regret would be unbearable, There would be no future in staying in that place. So I guess acceptance is also about surrender. Surrendering to the truth that there are some things that can’t be changed, and looking for the most positive path forward.
This process did help me to engage more fully with the things that mean the most to me. I finally had a concrete example of why we shouldn’t put things off – there may not be a future time in which to do them. Hence, my renewed commitment to writing which has led to my being present in this alternate universe.