Sunday, June 9, 2013


Regrets. We all have them. We regret we didn’t do or say something to another person we should have; we regret we were mean; we regret we had a fight with a friend, we regret we didn’t study for an exam that would have helped us get a better job position.

But bereaved parents probably have the most regrets when their child dies. We didn’t see the signs that they were depressed. We didn’t kiss them good-bye that morning for the first time ever. We didn’t get to tell them we loved them one last time. We didn’t get to say we were sorry for verbally saying harsh things to each other. We never got to go on that vacation we always said we would go on next year. We never got to thank them for helping out with the yard work. These feelings can consume us. Reality tells us that tomorrow may never come, leaving us with the greatest regrets of our lives as far as our children are concerned.

One author, Jackie Hooper, was fascinated with this idea of “what if” and decided to find out what people would say to each other if given a second chance. The response was overwhelming and eventually she turned many of those responses into a book, “The Things You Would Have Said,” a good read for anyone, whether a bereaved parent or not. Hooper received letters from Holocaust survivors saved from death during the war, although not all family members survived; from children who lost siblings; from others who regretted how they acted in school by bullying others, causing the death of a classmate, and many other letters.

Professor Neil Roese of Northwestern University in Chicago has spent 20 yeaers studying the emotion of regret and agrees that if the emotion of regret is channeled right, it can be beneficial. “Regret can serve a healthy purpose if we listen to a message or draw on insight but then move on and focus on the future. It’s the missed opportunities when we could have acted but didn’t that are the most haunting. The things left undone tend to be more powerful and longer lasting, especially if we think about words unsaid, things we wish we had told loved ones before it was too late.

Right after my daughter died I was thinking one day that I’d forgotten to tell her how proud I was of the way she’d responded to an acquaintance who was making fun of another friend. Now I would never be able to do that, nor ever share any secrets we always told each other. It was a horrible feeling.

The Oklahoma City bombing, the World Trade Center, Columbine and everyone else who has lost a child to murder, accidents, suicide or drug overdose…all those parents who wish they could give their children one last hug, one last kiss, tell them how much they are loved and always will be. Perhaps a written letter finally saying what you wish you could have said in person, will help give closure of a sort to feeling held in for so long and can be very healing. It’s worth a try.