During the summer of 2021, I hosted a radio show every Sunday at noon.
My goal was to meet people with uncharacteristic life paths, ask questions, and have them share what they learned and how they see life.
For the final episode, I wanted to do something special.
One year earlier, my wife passed away, and I thought it would be a good idea to invite someone to talk about death and grief.
We don’t talk enough about death
My guest’s first remarks were about our fear of talking about death. As mortals, we often avoid the topic as much as possible.
We don’t discuss it with our children, and when we do, sometimes we lie (e.g., “your dad had an accident” instead of “your dad committed suicide”).
We hardly discuss death among ourselves as adults unless we know someone who has passed away (in lieu of “died”), or is very sick.
My guest said that discussing death as part of life is essential.
If we don’t discuss death before someone’s passing, it becomes difficult to handle once the event happens.
In my case, my wife had been sick for a long time. Yet, the first time we seriously discussed her eventual death was only a couple of months before she passed away.
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And I, for one, am grateful that we had this discussion. It allowed me to make the funeral decisions I felt were the correct ones. I believe she would have been happy with the result, despite COVID restraints.
Without that discussion, I would have been in a tough situation. I would have second-guessed every answer I gave to the funeral director when he asked me what I wanted to do to celebrate my wife’s life.
But as it stands today, I’m happy, and I’m proud of the sending off that I gave my wife.
And that came from having a frank discussion about her eventual death, accepting it, and dealing with all the surrounding emotions.
Remorse is better than regret… every time
I have some regrets following my wife’s death. Don’t we all?
But fortunately, for now, nothing that gnaws at me and prevents me from being happy.
But I’ve seen others around me suffer much more from regret.
During my radio interview, I asked my guest how to deal with such situations. Her answer took me by surprise.
She said, “If you are still alive, and you have regrets about someone, take care of it now. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”
That got me thinking about regrets and anger.
Anger begets regret
I believe that regret hides a form of anger. It can be simmering anger or anger that manifests itself violently.
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Like it or not, we reserve our greatest anger for the people closest to us because they matter in our lives. And when we become too angry, we shut off communication channels that should remain open.
Talking to the other person might not fix everything, but at least you know you tried. But if you do nothing, once the person at the source of your anger dies, you’re left alone to resolve your feelings.
The anger you felt toward someone who was still alive will be directed toward yourself… because you can’t take it out on anyone else. That anger goes hand in hand with regret. Regret for what could… or should have been.
Who’s angry… and why?
Why do we remain angry at people?
Part of it is because we expect a certain behavior from others, and we get upset when they don’t act like we want them to.
We have no control over the other person’s actions. We only control our own behavior.
But when we remain angry at them, we’re only punishing one person: ourselves.
Anger is like venom. It courses through our veins, and until we let it out, it destroys us from the inside.
And, ironically, you could be mad at someone without that person knowing it. Or, you could be mad at someone, that person is mad at you in return, but each person is angry for a different reason. Or neither person remembers what the dispute is all about…. but they are angry with each other nevertheless!
Discussing the lingering anger, frustration, and other destructive emotions is one way to resolve the situation. Will it always work? No, but at least you know you’ve done the best you could to resolve the issue. That goes a long way toward avoiding regret.
What if the person dies before you resolve your anger?
Unfortunately, we often realize too late that we never resolved lingering issues with someone close to us.
Anger and a profound feeling of sadness and regret settle in our souls. We know we can never interact with the other person, so we won’t be able to right what went wrong.
At that point, the best you can do is unburden yourself of that anger.
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My radio guest suggested writing a letter to the deceased, then burning it. No need to share it with anyone else; the goal is to help yourself.
You can also speak to a close friend who will listen without judging or telling you what to do. Expressing your anger and regrets can let the venom slowly exit your body.
Finally, you can see a professional. A good therapist will listen without judgment and provide tools to help you get beyond the anger and the regret.
Anger is still a good sign
If reading this reminds you of a situation in your life that makes you angry, that’s good news.
If you feel anger or hatred toward someone, you still have the opportunity to create a better future.
Behind anger lay unspoken truths and, yes, love and caring.
Because, in truth, the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.
As long as you aren’t indifferent to the other person, there is hope for both of you.
Reach out try to redress the situation. You may try, and fail, and you might have some remorse for trying.
But it’s always better to live with remorse than it is to live with regrets.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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