Fall has always been our favorite time of year, but Fall in New England – now there’s a treat! It’s a beautiful time to drive through the colorful woods of Massachusetts and New Hampshire and along the coastlines of Maine! We would take this trip annually, if we could – though that just doesn’t happen! So we were excited when the opportunity came this year to do just that! It was a short trip, much shorter than we had originally planned, and it almost didn’t happen because of work schedules and other circumstances. But it was an important trip, so even though reducing a planned ten day vacation into less than five days can be challenging and frustrating – for us, we were just happy to have been able to go at all!
It was a trip about letting go of regrets!
The reason for our trip was to attend a memorial service in Maine for a friend we lost a year ago in an accident. While our friend lived in Florida, this service was to spread his ashes in his hometown. It was a bittersweet trip, but one that was needed to help us both with closure and to show our love and support for his family while they went through a difficult day in their grief journey. There were laughs and there were tears. We shared our many memories and whispered our feelings of loss. Even though it was a short visit, we left knowing we had become a part of our friend’s family and would always be welcomed back! We would not have missed that trip for anything!
We then traveled south along the coast of Maine to visit some of my husband’s cousins. We were able to attend Sunday service in the church where his uncle used to be the pastor. It is a beautiful church with large stained glass windows, an old pipe organ and a steeple that you can see from across the harbor. We spent the afternoon with the family, sharing a meal, discussing current events, favorite pastimes and chatting about life in general. We had not seen some of his cousins in several years and it was so wonderful to just spend a relaxed afternoon catching up! We had fun taking group photos and discussing our hope for future travel plans. Even though we only had an afternoon, we made the most of the time we could spend together!
We ended our trip with a visit to my nephew’s college campus back in Massachusetts! It was a time for him to enjoy a family visit and for us to see him in his new college life. It was amazing to see how grown up and independent he had become. He took us for a tour and told us about his classes, new friends and what his daily life was like. It brought back memories of my campus days (so long ago), as I watched the kids going from this building to that and gathering near campus hot spots. We were happy to share that experience with him – something I’m sure we will think back on as he grows older and moves on with his own life!
We spent the drive home reminiscing about our short vacation and how glad we were that it had all pulled together. While there were places that we weren’t able to visit, and a couple of things we didn’t get to do, we knew we had made the most of our short time at each of those stops. No regrets for us!
We weren’t home long before the reality of life came rushing back. I received word that a woman who I had worked with years ago had passed away very unexpectedly. The friend who called to advise me of her passing had been good friends with this woman over the years, but had not spoken to her in a while. She shared that she was feeling low about not having reached out to catch-up with this friend sooner…and now it was too late. Too late to explain why it had been so long since they last spoke, or to say how sorry she was that she had been distant recently.
Even as our vacation was still fresh in my mind, my thoughts were so quickly returned to the harshness that life can bring. Of Loss and sadness, concern for a grieving family and for those who are left behind wondering why. I am acutely familiar with all those feelings. I also know the feeling of regret that comes with the after thoughts that maybe you should have visited that person sooner or more often, or said all the things you wanted to say when you thought you had all the time in the world to do it. Regret is a terrible emotion and one not easy to let go of. It requires the will and strength to forgive yourself first.
My husband and I had regrets related to the passing of our friend last year. We hadn’t wanted to spend the money to travel to Florida and we let so many other things get in the way, because we just thought we had time to make the trip another year. Although we had spoken to him not long before his accident, there were still things we wish we had told him – like how much his friendship meant to us. We couldn’t do that now with our friend, but sharing that one special day with his family was a way of making up for it.
Life can be tough at times, and I would guess that most people feel at least some small amount of regret about something. So what is a person to do?
I think you shouldn’t wait or forget to tell people exactly what they mean to you, and often. Even if you can’t be with them, you can pick up a phone or send a note to make sure you are keeping in touch. If you’ve had a falling out with someone, search your heart for a way to forgive. Maybe your regret has to do with where you are in your life, or how your choices have gotten you where you are. But instead of feeling regret, consider that you may be on that path for a reason. See what there is to learn from it, and remember that you have the ability to change that path if you truly choose to.
Learn to tell the difference between regret and disappointment. Maybe regret is knowing the things you truly should have done, and didn’t – versus disappointment, which is simply an unhappiness about a situation or outcome. We can get over disappointment, but regrets can stay with you for a long time. They are hard to shake and can take a toll on a person.
Most importantly – learn to forgive yourself. It’s not always easy, but letting regrets run your life is no way to live. Make amends where and when you can, learn lessons and find a way to be ok with your circumstances. Try to live without regret – but if and when they happen, learn to love yourself enough to find a way to let them go!