Regrets and Dying

I haven’t completely sworn off Facebook, but I usually go in and out. I take a cursory look at updates from the people on my list and then close the window. I don’t linger. Again it must be me getting older which makes me think that if people were indeed interested to keep in touch, I’d get a message via email. I hate snooping around, so if it’s not in my current feed, I’m not updated.

There are days when I see something amusing or something that makes me pause and think.  I picked up this tidbit from one of my favorite batchmates from St. Paul Pasig (for elementary) and QC (for High School), Millet. (You can read a profile I wrote about her in our high school e-zine here.)  Her quips are always refreshing, and for the last couple of days, we have been feasting on some great photos of Japan where she just ended a much-deserved vacation.

Today she posted this “poster” which listed the “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” from  The Guardian News .  For some reason, it struck a chord in me and moved me to start drafting a post here. Graphic borrowed from Millet Henson's Wall

I guess it must be because I was thinking of Dad again this morning on my way to work, in connection with last night’s episode of Criminal Minds entitled “Alchemy“.  Above and beyond the usual gore and diabolical minds of the criminals that are the focal point of each episode was a focus on Dr. Spencer Reed’s continued grieving over the loss of his love, Maeve.  (in Episode 8: Zugzwang)  They were star-crossed lovers who had never met until they were on opposite sides of a hostage negotiation where Spencer tried to get Maeve’s female stalker to release her while she was holding a gun to Maeve’s head.  The episode ended quite tragically when the stalker committed death by suicide, with the bullet that pierced the stalker’s head shooting right through Maeve’s temple.

Several episodes forward, Spencer is obviously still in limbo with his grief, and David Rossi was trying to help him deal with it.  But that’s another post.  Suffice it to say that that got me into thinking about love and loss.  Hence, Dad.

So I looked over the list and thought that they were worth pondering on.  At my age, I have stopped thinking that I will live forever and have come to accept my mortality.  It can be tomorrow, next year, in a decade, or who knows?  I used to look forward to growing old and having grandchildren, but reality gave me a major bop in the head last year which has changed my view about many things including aging.

These are the things we wish we would never find ourselves uttering when death’s face is in front of us.  It’s the opposite of what we would consider “a life well lived” or more of “it could’ve been, BUT…”

I was drawn to the list because I wanted to ask myself if I am at risk at uttering these same lines when I find myself at death’s door.  I’m reposting it here just to give other like-minded “Older” souls the chance to ask themselves if any of these apply.  It would do one a lot of good to reflect on these now that you still have the chance to change things and hopefully avoid any of these sad regrets from cropping up when the time comes. 

None of them are difficult to overcome, yet they are common human pitfalls.

Have a look:

1.  I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.  I think this is going to be on a lot of people’s lists.

I always tell those who ask for my two cents’ worth that we all have the gift and the ability to do and be what we want to be.  The reality of it is, that is easier said than done.  Often, we find ourselves conforming to what others expect of us at the expense of our individuality.

I think I’ve done fairly well in terms of having the courage to live a life true to myself, although I still find myself conforming to what is expected of me.  I think it’s part of the dynamic of society to impose certain standards upon all of us that find us falling short of being true to one’s self 100%.  There is always going to be that portion where we need to conform to what others want, or what others have imposed upon us.

We may choose to go one route, but life might say no, we can’t.  Then we don’t. 

We may choose another, but that other might choose yet another — so we are left hanging in mid-air, and the fall can break one’s spirit in two.  So we end up living up to other’s expectations, instead of living the choice we had wanted to take.  I beg to differ that it is not all about having the courage to live as you would want to, because sometimes, fate plays a cruel joke on us and just won’t let us live the life that would be true to what we are.

2.  I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.  This one, I have to say, is off my list.  While I do work hard, I have always tried my best to maintain a good balance between life and work, never letting the latter take the former over.  While I may have put career first earlier on, ever since I moved to New York 13 years ago, I’ve always been clear that I would prioritize quality of life over career or a paycheck.  When you have accomplished the plans you had set early on in life, you view work differently and treat life with more care.

I’ve attained the education I dreamt of, worked  at some of the best companies while in the Philippines, moved to New York in 2000 to start a family… had my precious son in 2004… and I’ve been lucky to continue to be employed by a company that pays me well and where I’m a little higher on the totem pole.  It can be better, I know, but I’ll settle for “good”.

I get the chance to be a mom and be myself, do my crafts, write and enjoy the view 41 storeys above Midtown Manhattan.  This will be one regret I will not utter on my deathbed, because I know where life overtakes work and have kept my focus on never losing sight of that.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.  Again, another one off my list.  Those who know me well and who have read me here will attest to the fact that self-expression is a strength of mine.  It is one of my personal strengths which I take pride in, even if at times it had gotten me in trouble and left me steeped in disappointment and heartache. 

I have never run short on courage — I’ve always been very outspoken.  Even when I was younger, I had the courage to hand a young man who had caught my fancy a note to tell him I liked him but he was too “masungit”.  And even as I got older, I left everything in Manila to move here and start a new life and a family, taking a literal leap of faith — following my heart.

It has not always been positive in the end, because there were times when I was brave but I was rebuffed by fate.  That has somehow jaded me and made me more cautious, but I have always been a very transparent person.   Perhaps now I am not wont to be so brazen.  My feelings have been tempered by age and life in general.  But I know that I will never say I wish I had the courage, because I’ve always had that in abundance where my feelings were concerned.

4.  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.  This one is a qualified “wish” for me.  It’s hard to say I am leaning towards this when the previous years have seen me getting pickier with the company I keep.  Friendships, like most things in life, take a lot of work.  And with all the other things happening in our lives and in the world today, we can only do so much.  I have never really lost touch with those dearest to my heart — it’s just that the list of the people who qualify as people I would regret not being in touch with keeps getting shorter and shorter.  At this point, I must say that I’ve been pretty successful in that respect — they may all be thousands of miles away, but they are always near in thought and in my heart.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.  I’m suddenly stumped.  Again, to “let one’s self” be happier, and to be happier are qualifying statements that don’t put me anywhere near a definite yes or no to this one.

Sometimes, it’s as easy as being more forgiving of one’s self, and I am not doing very well in that respect.  I don’t know if I will ever truly be able to forgive myself and let myself be happy again.  So instead I try to find the “happy” in the blessings that I have in my life — making up for not finding it within my heart. I am blessed many times over by love everywhere.  I know that most people will tell me not to be too hard on myself — something that’s easier said than done again.  I have reached this point in my life where I have come to terms with my personal failings.  Not even saying “I’m only human” gives me a reprieve.  I try but I feel like I’m in quicksand, sinking deeper unable to stay afloat.

Forgiveness has been easier to give to others than myself.  Perhaps it’s because we are our harshest critics, our most bitter judge.  It can also be because we are the only ones who truly know ourselves.

I am hoping that when my time comes, I will be able to chalk this off my list.  I hope it doesn’t come, though, for a long, long time yet — then maybe, I can say, I was able to let myself be happier.. in time.

The article ends with the question:  What’s your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?  Sometihing to ponder on.

So which ones are on your list?  It’s not yet too late to start trying to avoid too many regrets from piling up in our lives.  It will never be an empty bag, but we can certainly try to lighten it, until our time comes.

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