All things considered I’m managing my old age fairly well. I can check off most of the boxes for health, close friendships, meaningful work, etc., but when it comes to handling my regrets, I’m frequently stalled.
I’m haunted over screaming matches with my teenage sons, impatience with my mother when she was dying, love affairs I allowed to go on way beyond their expiration date, and on a daily basis, regrets over poor time management.
Are regrets a natural component to aging? Given the tendency to reflect on the past as we engage in life reviews, is it inevitable that we’ll get lost in regrets? Is this behavior magnified for women, like me, who are proficient at taking on guilt?
I feel like Lady Macbeth uttering “Out damned spot!” In my case it’s regrets that I can’t rub out rather than blood.
I’m tired of regrets clouding my family visits where I obsess on being better than my younger self. I’m tired of regrets inducing guilt at the end of the day because I gave up writing time to read a so-so novel or because I went shopping instead of doing something more meaningful.
A light bulb moment came to me the other morning while doing the breakfast dishes: “What if my regrets visit me because they represent ongoing work rather than something to be cast off?”
While I can’t go back in time to correct my regretful behavior, I can view my regrets as lessons for the future. I don’t have to stew about not being a better single parent, but I can examine my shortcomings as roadmaps for the future. I got into trouble with my kids because I didn’t stop and listen. I made assumptions. I had my own agenda for their lives. Today when I’m having long distance phone conversations with my adult sons I’m listening more and talking less. I’m trying not to offer opinions unless asked—not an easy task!
Another practice that tackles regrets is to remind myself of those aspects of my life that give me pleasure and are regret-free. My family and I share a sense of humor, which invites frequent laughter. I have close friends who are kind and supportive and I try to reciprocate. My grandchildren and I delight in one another’s company.
I’ve also discovered that the more I focus on practicing loving-kindness to self and others, the less I seem to dwell on my regrets. I think the positive focus offered by loving-kindness leaves less room for the negatives in my life, which is where regrets tend to live.
I will always harbor my share of regrets but they don’t have to take on the mantle of “Pat the Failure.” Instead I can view them as an inevitable part of life, as a guide for helping me to avoid the mistakes of my past and as a reminder that I’m human. I am striving to live in the present moment and not to beat myself up when I make an insensitive comment or fret away a day procrastinating.
I found this quote on the site “Ravenous Butterflies,” which serves as a reminder to keep regrets on the back burner:
“The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.”
–C. JoyBell C.