For the most part, at age 70, I consider my life thus far well-lived, and I feel blessed beyond measure. But being older has cast a new perspective on my life and its meaning, the most important revelation being that I have missed many of life’s most satisfying moments – the moments I could have devoted to the people I love and have loved most. Nobody’s perfect. We all live in the moment. And I’m not even sure that, if given the opportunity for a do-over, I would behave any differently than I always have. That said, here are a few of my regrets:
I regret that I didn’t have more patience with my mother and stepdad when they became infirm and needy. I would find myself irritated at Herb when he couldn’t hear what I had repeatedly said to him, or frustrated when he needlessly worried that I wouldn’t get him to his appointments on time. It was almost impossible to keep in mind, when his slow movements and forgetfulness got on my nerves, that when he was gone, he would be gone forever, likewise, I regret that I didn’t spend more time with my mom in her last months of life. Knowing she wouldn’t be with us much longer, I continued to go to work and go about my routine, “fitting in” my daily visits for an hour or two and leaving the bulk of her care to my aunt, who came to care for her during her last weeks on this earth. Even though it was so painful to watch her fade away, I regret that I didn’t spend my days with her, holding her hand and asking her to tell me her stories.
I regret when I visited my parents for a short time and then got up to leave, that when they said, “What’s your hurry?” I didn’t sit back down and while away a few more hours with them. But I always had so much to do – most of which didn’t really matter, certainly not as much as their companionship.
I regret that I slept so much, especially in my periods of depression, when I could have been with my children – drawing, reading, or playing. I clearly remember feeling so very guilty, when exhausted and barely able to get through the day, I lay in bed each day after I picked up my middle child from preschool, while her baby brother napped, and allowed the TV to be her entertainment.
I regret that I allowed my household chores to take precedence over spending time with my kids, and after they grew up, my grandkids. How many cute conversations or clever quips I missed while I cleaned the bathroom or vacuumed the carpet. How I cheated them by not involving them in my work and teaching them to do the chores that they could have very well done themselves. It was all just easier to do it myself while they played. Likewise, I regret that I didn’t teach them how to cook and that we didn’t have family dinners every night – an opportunity for all of us to sit together and talk – even if that talk was arguing over who was responsible for the towels thrown in the bathroom floor. Before I knew it, they were grown up, and the chance to absorb their childhood into my very being had passed.
I regret that I sometimes put my responsibilities at work ahead of my responsibilities to my family. I don’t regret working at all. I was not a good stay-at-home mom, and I do think I did untold good for others in my jobs as teacher and counselor. But grading all those papers and making all those plans at home, working late hours, trying to be the perfect teacher or counselor, could have been better spent with my family. I just took for granted they would always be there – that we could go to the zoo another day.
I regret that every time I passed an opportunity to go on a date or take a walk with my husband because I had too many responsibilities at home. “The house is dirty.” “The laundry isn’t done.” “I have to do to the grocery store.” Fortunately, I just don’t put the chores first anymore – because I realize. now, the dirty dishes aren’t going anywhere, and washing them is not remotely as much fun as holding hands and munching popcorn in a darkened theater.
I regret that when friends called and asked me to go to dinner or to an event with them, or neighbors invited me for a walk with the kids or the dogs, I told them I was too tired or just not in the mood. I truly doubt that nap I took was nearly as refreshing as our chats would have been. And what if they really needed my companionship at that time in their lives? Did I miss an opportunity to help?
Obviously, I couldn’t have spent all those hours with my loved ones and friends. Each day is only 24 hours long, and housework must be done eventually - rest must be taken. And if you were to ask them, I doubt any of my family members and friends feel neglected. In fact, I’m sure most of them, at one time or another, wished I would just go away. I don’t dwell on my regrets, but as I complete my seventh decade of life, I realize how valuable time is, and how much of it I frittered away on things that didn’t really matter. When I see a dad with his face buried in his phone, while his child begs for his attention, or watch a couple in a restaurant neither speak nor look at each other during their meal, or when I listen to people constantly complain about their frustrating elderly parent who won’t give up that ratty recliner or a sassy teenager whose room is a disaster, I realize that sometimes our priorities get out of whack. I remember, as writer Anthony J. D’Angelo said, “The most important things in life aren’t things.” An excellent reminder for us all.