Grief or Regret? One and the Same

When I first started writing the following passage, the words flowed from an emotional reaction to a couple of losses over a number of months.  I only recently felt the need to put these feelings in writing.  At first it was just another snippet to keep filed away until I found somewhere to use it, either in a similar form or as inspiration.  While I wrote and rewrote, I thought more about what the passage may be saying in a broad sense and not simply what the words an emotions revealed about my own recent experiences.  I am not sure the passage, as written, fits into a story that has seen a little writing recently but is mostly banging around in my head looking for a release, but writing the passage presented a more natural motivation to begin her quest than I had come up with so far.  Writing these snippets as they come into my head is an important part of my writing process because they generate new ideas, ways to approach stumbling blocks in my plots and, simply, some good practice.

Either or.  This or That.  Why do people need everything need to be so black and white?  Should I be sad or relieved?  Should I regret what we missed or be satisfied with what we had?  Why should I have to pick one?  Can’t I be all of these things at once?  Any passing is sad but they also give us time to reflect on their lives and the meaning their lives gave to ours.  Life is never simple and neither are the many emotions these passings draw forth.

Often I struggled to understand why she was still with us.  She didn’t understand either and had been ready to go for sometime.  At some point in every discussion we had over the past several years, she would interrupt our current conversation to ask why she was still here.  During our lives we may come to realize a sense of purpose for our life, but can we every truly know why we are here, whose lives we have impacted and how we fit into the grand design?  I do not recall her struggling with this concept ever until she was unable to physically do much more than pass the time.

The news of her passing was not much of a surprise when the early morning caller uttered the not unexpected words.  Timing is always a surprise no matter how prepared you think you are.  The stale morning air had not yet been replaced with the aroma of coffee brewing.  I snatched my phone from the nightstand and,without focusing my sleepy eyes, I heard the only voice I expected to hear without seeing clearly the name the appeared on the screen.

My first feeling was relief.  Relief for her, mostly.  Relief for the caller.  Even maybe a little relief for me.  Then that sinking feeling started in my stomach and soon engulfed my whole body.  My shoulders rolled forward, my abs tightened, and my neck compressed.  She was gone and I would never see her again.  Each of my hands grasped its partner’s arm in comfort.  I had known her my whole life.  Tears welled in my eyes but no cry crossed my lips.  She was the last of the gang of four.  The last real connection to a time long before any of my own memories.

Regret rose from my gut next.  It wasn’t part of the loss I felt for her, but it was the regret for what I missed with her three counterparts.  This emotion circled back to recollecting the loss I felt when each of the others had passed.  This time, thought, it wasn’t loss of a person but loss of the unknown.  Each one left with so much knowledge and so many memories when they passed.  Unless they had shared this with others or through some recorded medium, it was all now lost forever.

I was only five when the first passed.  I didn’t even know what was happening and to this day have no memory of this time.  Over the years I have dreamt of what our relationship might have been like with him in my life.  My imagination battled with two possible outcomes—my interests would have developed to match his or that he would find renewed interest in the activities I learned to embrace.

To this day, I regret that I did not ask another member of the quartet and the person closest to him many questions before she departed.  I was an adult when it was her time to go.  She passed less than a day after I left her side for the final time and my first thought was, “I should have asked her more.  Asked her more about him. Asked her more about herself.  Asked her more about their past, their history, everything.”

I had the chance and took it with the last of the four.  There was still not enough time to learn and record it all.  By this time I had started too late and so many of her memories had faded.  As I researched her past and we discussed my findings, I felt as if I was reminding her of the things she had forgotten as much as she was helping me to learn more about her history which will forever be my history, too.

As memories of my loved ones float through my thoughts, I realized it may be too late to ask those who are gone important questions about our past, yet it isn’t too late to ask the living.  Grief is so much about regret.  Regret for what we did not do.  Regret for what we could have done.  We cannot always come to terms with these regrets, but if we recognize an opportunity before it is lost we may be able to minimize that potential regret.

After I wrote this, I began to think about some my own regrets I had with so many of my relatives.  It was that very day that I began drafting e-mails to all of my living relatives asking them to record a story, memory or simply their thoughts about any of our relatives.  I may not be able to have all my questions answered, but I still had time to collect their stories.  I will be sending these out over the next few months.  I am certain of those who will absolutely respond, but I am eager to see who surprises me with a response.

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