Monday, November 24, 2014

Regrets, Regrets, Regrets

I'm gonna need a mighty big eraser (Claus Oldenberg-style) to wipe out all my mistakes.

Where do I begin?  How far back should I go?  

When I first started working I did a good thing. I opened an IRA with $2000.  I was young and it was forward-thinking.  Life went on, I moved many times, got married, left the state, and lost track of that IRA.  Never set up another one.  I thought about it over the years, tried to track it down.  Never finished the paperwork.  Let it go year after year.  FINALLY I did what needed to be done, submitted all the documents, updated my name, information, address, marital status, and got back that IRA and was thrilled that it had tripled in value!  But the guy at the brokerage house?  He was sick over it because for 30 years it had been sitting in a money market account earning next to nothing.  Properly invested, that IRA should have accrued in the tens of thousands. GEEZ.  As Julia Roberts says in Pretty Woman... 
"Big mistake. HUGE."

I had a wonderful wedding and a huge reception with over 200 family and friends.  Try as I did to think of EVERYTHING to ensure no detail would be missed, there were misses.  I forgot to give my photographer the list of shots to get and never had a picture taken with my Gramma.  Because it wasn't my side of the family (and I didn't know at the time), we didn't include my deceased father-in-law's only
sister, Aunt Barbara and Uncle Dick in the photos and we didn't invite my sister-in-law's best friends from college, Marilyn & Doug, to the wedding.  Worse, my friend Shirley didn't ask me to take over the video camera and I didn't ask her because I thought it would be making her "work" at my wedding.  Videographer-extraordinaire, if Shirley had been behind the camera, she would've had a much better time. Shirley would've gotten our guests  many of whom are no longer living  to tell stories and share wisdom and we would've had an unbelievable visual and oral history of the people who loved us and were there to celebrate our marriage.  Instead, we have a stationery movie of the fixed view from the camera on a tripod.  

Photo by Jack Edinger

When I was at a small street fair on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I bought an unbelievably stunning piece of art  a silver necklace of a face that was so simple and yet so beautiful.  Out of fear and uncertainty, I never asked the artist his name.  I'll never know the name of the person who made this face that I love and wear and get complimented on for forty years now. 

Growing up, no one paid me any attention in my family, so when my children were born I was determined, driven and determined, not to have them experience that feeling.  But the trouble is I went all the way the other way.  I tried to tell them everything, give them everything, impart every last bit of information I could to inform them, educate them, protect them, and extend to them what no one but my teachers gave to me.  But the pendulum swung too far the other way.  How I smothered them with my knowledge.  I didn't know this until they were grown and gone.

If only I had known then what I know now.

When my sister-in-law Robin was dying, I didn't go back up north to see her one last time. I'd helped in managing to get her out of the hospital and up to her home, contacted family and friends, got the information for arranging hospice.  Though I spoke to her often (with someone holding the phone to her ear) I didn't make plans to return north. I was worried about the money, thought it was more important that my husband fly up to see her, but some part of me really didn't want to go back.  Didn't want to see her at the end.  Wanted to remember her dazzling smile and happy face. Didn't want to see her so changed and leaving this life.  I regret it now.
And finally, and this is a big one, a really unforgivable big heartbreaking mistake.   My sister Donna was an amazing, giving, gorgeous person.  I don't know that I ever fully appreciated how much of a a supportive, generous presence she was in my life.  When my sister died, my daughter and I had arrived to visit her for her birthday and then were headed to southern California where our first cousin Bobby's daughter was getting married and many of the family were coming west. It would be the first wedding my daughter ever attended.  We arrived at my sister's late one night, talked to her for hours and then, when it was 3:00 am our time and my daughter and I were collapsing, I finally said we had to go to bed and would see each other in the morning.  Not twenty minutes later, at Donna's request, we were taking her to the hospital and four days later (on her 59th birthday) she passed away in the fifteen minutes no one was there.  That was my sister, always looking out for everyone else. She didn't want to inconvenience us by dying at home and she didn't want to make it tough by leaving this life on anyone's watch.

She'd been sick for five years, bedridden for two, but still, it came as a shock.  We were devastated that Donna was gone.  Her son said the thought of orchestrating her funeral was overwhelming.  And we worried about spoiling the wedding happiness by following it with a funeral.  We didn't want everyone to darken their joy with our sorrow.  So we sent my sister to her next incarnation without any ceremony or service for all the people who loved her. We planned to hold a celebration of her life at another time on one coast and the other, but time went by and we never did.  Maybe that's why she doesn't "visit" me in my dreams or send me messages and let me know she's watching over us.  It was shameful. It is shameful.  She deserved better.  It is my biggest regret.


Okay, I've confessed.  These are the enduring regrets that keep me awake at night.  When my head hits the pillow, THEN in the dark and silence of night, all the other things that have kept me busy and distracted (and not thinking about my mistakes) disappear, and it all comes flooding back to haunt me.  I obsess about what went wrong last week, last month, fifteen years ago or more.  These are the mental one-sided conversations I keep having over and over and over again  hoping to be heard by those in my past, in my present.  

Not being seen or heard  painful remainders (yes, remainders) from my childhood.  These are the hot buttons that make me tough to live with and keep me from finding peace.


  1. These regrets make me want to reach out and give you a hug. Does it help to know that we've all done things like this and so much worse??? I am learning to call it "living." The statement about Donna "...Maybe that's why she doesn't "visit" me in my dreams or send me messages and let me know she's watching over us..." surprised me the most, because you've told me of times you felt she was with you. I'm 100 percent sure that if she could communicate with you she would. Instead of thinking that she's punishing you, why not think that she just can't get through? And what about holding a service for her now? Just a thought.

    1. I think those are all good thoughts..we still talk about organizing something…and yes, on a rational level I know she's not "punishing" me but (sigh) emotions aren't rational. I got your HUG…thanks!

  2. Hey, this has been on my mind a lot the last few days since I read it. I hope to give you a hug of sympathy and support soon--but for now all I can say is that I have so many things of my own that I know I should have done better/things I shouldn't have said and I did anyway/friends I should have visited but didn't/friends I stayed too long with etc. But they do not keep me up at night. I am sorry yours do you. You know, when the man said "I have to go and bury my parents," Jesus told him to let the dead bury the dead. There is so much work to be done here in the present, and I like to think of the many people I have helped and am helping and I know you have been a great public servant too. Don't beat yourself up over the things you haven't done--think of all the great stuff we both know you have accomplished.

    About Donna, I was not there when my father in law passed recently. That was sad, but it was OK too. I had given him a lot of love and received a lot of love from him over the past six months since he was diagnosed . He knew how I felt. I think Donna knew how close you were to her. You saw her shortly before she died. You did well by her. She knew how you felt.

    1. Dan, thank you for such loving support and gentle reminders that my focus should be in the present…a much better place to be. I appreciate the shout-out…Happy Thanksgiving!