Regrets

My mother’s birthday is tomorrow.  She died about two years ago.  I thought I had been mourning her death in a pretty healthy way, moving through stages of grief appropriately.  I felt that I was moving forward towards wholeness.  I thought the worst was pretty much behind me. 

I think I was wrong. 

Those of you who have been traveling with me know that, when my mother died, I experienced a wide variety of emotions.  I tried to feel each one instead of pushing it aside so I would not create a dark prison of grief within myself.  It has been a difficult, painful process, but also satisfying in that I feel like I’ve mourned with a certain amount of courage and integrity.

The one thing I thought I was spared during my mourning was the problem of regret.  When my mother died, I felt fairly satisfied with my role in her last years.  I believed I had done my best. I thought I was able to let go of any self-loathing about what I “coulda shoulda” done. 

Once again, I think I was wrong. 

It seems I do have regrets. Big ones.  But I think I have just been too afraid to face them. They are menacing.  They are terrifying.  They are threatening to start building that prison of grief. It might be time to show them the light of day. 

I first became aware of the regrets around Mother’s Day this year.  Some of you may remember my story about the day I stopped holding my mom’s hand and vacated the room when family came to visit her roommate (http://www.terrilabonte.com/2019/05/hug-a-mom-today). I think that memory opened the door to my regrets.   I have been regretting that day ever since.  I’ve been regretting it so much, it hurts. I regret that I didn’t just stay in the room and hold her hand when the other people came.  I regret that I didn’t hold her hand more often.

There are other regrets, as well.  Sometimes, I even regret things that I was absolutely convinced were the right thing to do when I did them.  For instance, I regret not being with my mom when she passed.  I was always sure my mom did not want me there when she died.  Now, I wonder.  It would have been difficult to tell when the time was coming, admittedly.  She had been slowly leaving me for so long, it was hard to know when the door was finally going to close.  I had been through the “it may be just a few days” phase several times.  Apart from staying at the nursing facility full time for several weeks or months, there would have been no way to know the critical moment.  During those last few days, which I didn’t know were going to be the last few days, the hospice nurses thought she might be getting close.  She died in the very early hours on a Saturday morning.  When I saw her on Friday, she drank a whole can of Ensure… after not eating anything for days.  My hospice angel said that it seemed that maybe she wasn’t ready to go yet.  Less than twelve hours later, she was gone. 

In some ways, that chain of events should reassure me that my mother’s intent was to die without me there.  On some level, she may have been trying to fool me into believing I could go home because it wasn’t time, even though she knew it was.  It doesn’t really matter whether I am right or wrong about the way I interpret her actions.  I still regret not being there.

I regret that I was not able to figure out what my mother was trying to say a lot of the time.  I tried so hard, but I failed much of the time.  I resorted to trying to interpret her nonverbal cues and I will never know how good a job I did of that.  I am sad because I don’t know if I advocated for her properly because I wasn’t sure what she wanted or needed. 

Then there is the biggest, most shameful regret.  I regret that I did not have her at home with me.  I regret that she lived in a nursing home.  I know there are a lot of good reasons she was there.  She was bedridden.  She needed extensive wound treatment and medical comfort care.  She was incontinent.  Her cognitive and communicative abilities were impaired. She needed twenty-four hour a day assistance with activities of daily living. It was good that she had a network of loving people who genuinely cared for her and attended to her needs.  I was with her just about every day, but, if she had been at home, it would have been only me with her.  She always responded well to the caregivers who visited her room and made her laugh.  I’m not sure I was up to making her laugh, much less taking care of all her needs.  I don’t think I honestly could have taken care of her at home.  Let’s be truthful. It was all I could do to make it through that time when there was a whole team of people caring for her.  Still, I regret it bitterly.  I feel like I should have been able to care for her at home.

Truth be told, I have hit a rough patch.  I am in a bit of a dark place.  I have woken up crying several times over the last few nights.  In the shower this morning, I couldn’t draw a deep breath.  My heart felt ready to explode.  There was a dead heaviness in the center of my abdomen.  All I wanted to do was scream, as if by pushing sound violently out of myself, I could also dispatch the pain.  It is even hard to write this because it hurts so much to realize how much more I wish I was. 

As I said, I have been struggling with these feelings of regret for several months now.  I work hard to manage them.  I’ve found a few strategies that seem to help make things easier to endure.

First, there is prayer.  I have found that laying my grief and my regrets at God’s feet is the best way to unburden myself from it.  Not only that, but prayer has helped me find other ways of dealing with the regret.  For one thing, I know that my mother is in Heaven.  Her heart holds no regrets.  She experiences only joy and love.  She has long since forgiven me for every weakness, failing, and misstep.  Secondly, instead of wallowing in my regrets, I try to invest that energy in doing ordinary things with extraordinary love for the people I still encounter in this world.  It is sweetly satisfying to use a little of the love I have for my mother to brighten someone else’s life.  It is part of her legacy to me. 

Still, all my strategies don’t always work. Some days, I run smack into one of those grief prison walls and I just give up.  It hurts. Today is one of those days. 

Have you experienced feelings of regret after the death of a loved one?  How do you manage those feelings?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a regret-free day!

Terri/Dorry ☹

These are flowers I had sent to my church this week in memory of and thanksgiving for my beautiful mother.
The memory flowers at the feet of the Madonna and Child

10 thoughts on “Regrets”

  1. This makes me cry. Nobody close to me has ever put in to words their traumatic personal journey of losing their mom. Each story you tell is a reminder of the pain I must one day endure myself. I am so sorry for your loss, they say time heals, but two years on your pain still seems so raw. I hope when the time comes and I find myself in a similar situation, I can be half the daughter you were to your mom in her last weeks. I pray your regrets will lessen with the knowledge that you did what you could and your best at the time. Xoxo

    1. I’m sure that I’ll get through this season of regret just as I’ve gotten through the other sad times. I think just acknowledging that I do have regrets will help me. It also helps me that so many people have reached out to comfort me. Thank you for being one of them!

  2. A few things I’ve learned….the more you grieve the stronger your love is. The hardest part of losing someone we love so much isn’t the initial loss- it’s living without them for the rest of our lives. Grief will never end as long as we’re alive, without them and loving them. Regrets, I’m afraid, are “normal”. I have them every day. But we also have forgiveness. You have to know that deep inside you know your mother loved and appreciated all you did and she would not want you to have any regrets. Your faith will lead you to know that everything happened as it should have, according to God’s will. You are stronger than you think, and you will forgive yourself. And the light will win over these dark days. I go in and out out them every so often. They’re part of my “new normal.” Sometimes the dark days are necessary, cathartic and bring me into a brighter “light” when they pass. If you ever need a friend- someone who understands, you know I’m here for you.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. It isn’t that I think anything I did or didn’t do would have made a difference as to when my mom passed. My regrets are more about the quality of her last months.

  3. I don’t know if you know or not, but your mom was still working with me when I lost my dad and I had just started working after losing my mom. We have lots of very lengthy discussions on the topic of regret where the deaths of my mom and dad are concerned. I wasn’t there when my mom died, I was literally on the road on my way to see her when she passed suddenly. I was moving from Northern Cal to So Cal to take care of her, but she didn’t wait for me. I have many regrets that I didn’t move sooner. Your mom said that my mom didn’t want me to take care of her, she was happy to leave this world before I had the burden of the end of her life. When she was getting ready to move out there, it was because she new it would be easier for you to take care of her should she need it. She didn’t want to burden you with her care, she just thought it would be easier on her for you to do it instead of your brother. I asked her if she would want to eventually move in with you and she said no, she was independent and even if she was to move into a facility she was fine with that. She never wanted to burden anyone. I always was trying to help her. I would help her out of her car, getting her wheeley thing, even though she would say you know I can do that. I said I know I just want to do it for you. I would even go out and start her car and turn on the air when it was hot during her summers subbing with me. She was always so sweet, telling me “you don’t have to do that, I can do it”. I would say yep, but I want to. I am sure you did all the things for her that you could and that she probably thought she could do herself. She hated showing her tears, she loved to laugh and she loved to gossip !!!! Those are the things I miss most about her. I am sure she tricked you into not being there when she passed, it is not something she would want help with and she could do by herself. Take care of yourself Dorry, she would definitely want that.

  4. I can relate to your story in many ways when remembering the death of my father several years ago. He lived in Iowa while I was busy raising my family in Wyoming. We often took the 16 hour car trip as a family for long holiday weekends. Once he was diagnosed with lung cancer I often flew out to see him by myself, between the car trips. He had had a lobectomy and was doing well for 2 years when he started having more health problems suddenly.
    I should say here that he was a cantankerous and reluctant patient but a good-natured, fun-loving man when he was in good health. He hated absolutely everything about illness, hospitals and doctoring. With 2 daughters who were RNs he was tight-lipped about any symptoms he had, lest we lecture him or rat him out to the Dr.
    His wife (my stepmother) was not medically savvy, so he got very sick quickly when the cancer came back. I became aware that he was worse, with no details except that he was terminal with a life expectancy of only a few months. I flew right out. He was still at home, but not for long; the day after I arrived he suffered a major heart attack-I called 911 and he was taken to the local (county) ER.
    When the talk of “big guns”, as in “do everything, send him to the big heart hospital in Des Moines, he needs a central line…” started he was too sick to make decisions. I asked that they not do any of that, that they keep him comfortable and among his “friends” at the local hospital. I asked them NOT to start CPR when he drew his last breath, even though he never filled out a living will or healthcare POA. I did my best to divert more suffering for longer away from him, but I beat myself up over every decision for a few years. The “if only’s” came in force after he died.
    They have mostly quieted now, in part because of a lot of reassurance from my husband and sister (also RNs) that it was a blessing that I was there to help steer that care.
    I did not bring him to my home even though I am a nurse. Honestly, there wasn’t enough time, but I am not sure that I should have-his dislike of any medical doings made him owly and it might have tainted our lovely relationship.
    I didn’t hold his hand as he died-his death came suddenly, and we were not a touchy feely type family, except with hellos and goodbyes.
    It would have been awkward, but I should’ve done it anyway. I bear that one giant regret-I have held strangers’ hands scores of times as they lay dying in the hospital on my watch. I miss my dad and I know he is up there waiting for that hello hug and kiss.
    I have read that grief is love with no where to go. Tincture of time is the best cure.

  5. I know your struggles with regret after the loss of both my parents. I helped take care of my dad till his death 9 years ago. It took me a year & half before I could even look at a picture of him without breaking down. My mother died 4 years ago and I cared for her with the help of my husband and hospice. After reviewing & reviewing in my mind things that I might have done differently I had to face the truth, I had done the very best I could have for both my parents. Provided them with care, love, and support. You have done the same! Sit down and face the fact that you did your very best for your mother and it was the BEST. And maybe she couldn’t verbalize it, but she appreciated everything you did for her.

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