About a week before my mom died, she asked me not to leave her side. She was in a hospital cot next to her actual bed at home. I stayed with her, slept in her bed next to her cot at night, and would often lay my arm across the 12 inches of air space between us, letting my skin touch her skin so she knew I was there when she stopped talking and opening her eyes. But after several days of this, I got restless. I took breaks and watched episodes of LOST in the living room. I delayed my return to her bedroom. I took phone calls outside.
These moments spent away from my mother during her final days fill me with regret. What if she woke up and regained consciousness long enough to notice my absence? What if her last living memory was an empty room with no one by her side? When I start thinking like this, my mind feels like a dark, evil rabbit hole of regret that threatens to tear me apart.
I wish I had spent every last moment with my mother, and I wish I had read the eulogy I wrote to her before she died. We exchanged many I love yous while she was sick, but the eulogy I wrote captures everything she was to me and will always be—and that’s a lot more than an infinite number of I love yous could ever convey.
Several months after her death, I had a vivid dream. I dreamt that I was at my mother’s funeral, sitting several rows back. My mother was seated next to me in her nightgown. I looked at her and admitted my remorse about not sharing the eulogy with her when she was still alive. Her simple response was, “No, I didn’t need to hear it,” and she held my hand and turned her face to the rabbi up front. When I woke, it was clear as day to me that my subconscious was trying to soothe the pain of my regret. And acknowledging this made me feel better.
In a similar way, with the help of family and friends, I have learned to accept the fact that my mental health during my mother’s last days was just as important as supporting her while her physical health deteriorated. If an episode of LOST made it possible for me to return to her side, then an episode of LOST is what I needed. The rabbit hole of regret is still there, but I know how to spot it and step around it.
Whether we’re able to consciously or subconsciously reason away our regrets or not, it’s best to be prepared to experience them when we’re dealing with a loved one’s end of life. No matter what, there will be regrets. You’ll wish you had said one more I love you, or you’ll feel guilty about a recent argument. But perhaps if we think of regrets as lessons, instead of missed opportunities or poor decisions, we won’t feel overwhelmed by them.
Because of my regrets, I try to spend more time with family and make sure the people I love know that I love them. Because I didn’t read the eulogy to my mother before she died, I started a blog and am writing for Everplans to share my thoughts and feelings with anyone who wants to listen. In my view, a life of no regrets is a life without lessons learned. And that’s how I’ve come to peace with mine over time.