Just a forewarning – this is going to be a pretty raw post. If you want pretty ideas tied up in pleasing bows, you might want to stop reading now.
Okay, now that you know that, I also want you to know that this is a hard post for me to write because I’m sort of hanging out a lot of my own shortcomings and mistakes. What I hope, though, is that by sharing my mistakes, you can avoid them. Regret can leave a pretty nasty taste in your mouth. Take it from someone who knows.
It’s interesting how death has a way of exposing what you really believe – not just in your head, but deep down at the daily difference level. When my brother died last summer, God used his death to expose those things I talked about and said I believed, yet I didn’t really do. He showed me, in the loving, yet exquisitely painful way that only God can, that I was a hypocrite.
Here are the five things God taught me since my brother’s death. My hope is that you won’t just read this, but that you’ll take action in the areas that call to you.
- Don’t put things off. About a month before my brother’s death, I had this prompting that I should go see him -not just try to call him – but actually get in my car and drive over to visit him face to face. It was just after school ended, and I was kind of busy. So, I kept putting it off. I thought, “Oh, I’ll do that tomorrow or next week.” To be completely honest, I was really just putting off being uncomfortable. There were times when my brother would get upset for one reason or another and would pull away from our entire family. This was one of those times, and I hadn’t talked to him in a while. I had tried calling, but he never returned my calls. I wasn’t 100% sure how happy he’d be to see me, and even if he was, I knew the initial conversation might be awkward. And awkward makes me so uncomfortable. So, it was easy to make excuses to put it off for another day.Until, of course, there were no more days. During the first days after my brother’s death, that regret of not going to see him was like a knife twisting in my heart. “If only” played over and over in my head. So, if you get that feeling you should call someone or stop by, please just do it. Most regret isn’t over something you did, but over what you didn’t do.
- Don’t let busyness keep you from important relationships. As a wife and a mom with two sons who were always in sports, my evenings were (and are) often busy. While I made the effort to give my brother my kids’ game schedules, after he died, I found myself wishing I had invited him over more often. I found myself wishing back evenings he could have joined us for a quick dinner, afternoons watching football on television. It is so easy to get caught up in our never ending daily to dos, but when we let our tasks trump the people in our lives, we waste the time we have with them. While I’ve always known in my head that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, I certainly did not live that way. Your to do list will always be there, but that person won’t, necessarily. Take time for the people in your life and you won’t regret it.
- Say the important things. When my brother died, I spent a lot of time wondering if he knew. Did he know how much I enjoyed the fact that he worked so hard to find the perfect gift even during the times when he didn’t have a lot of money to spend? Did he know what a kick I got out how he tried to match the wrapping paper and tissue paper to that person’s gift? Did he know that I admired the way he volunteered to help other people even when he was struggling himself? Did he know that I would always be there for him and he could call me anytime for help or support? I knew I felt that way, but did he know I felt that way? I hope he did, but I don’t know for sure. That’s a tough pill to swallow now. Take the time to tell the people in your life you love them and what you love about them. Your words will never be wasted.
- Don’t give up on people. When someone you love has a mental illness, it can be hard sometimes. Relationships aren’t always all sunshine and kittens. My brother was a great guy in so many ways, but he did have his issues. There were times over the years, when I felt like nothing would change. There were times when I stopped praying for him because it felt hopeless. Here’s the thing – nobody is ever a lost cause with Jesus. If He can offer salvation to a thief dying on a cross next to Him, He has a hope and a future and a plan for whoever that person is in your life who it seems will never change or get back on the path. You will never regret praying more for someone or continuing to believe God has a plan for their life.
- Be present. Want to completely ruin the vibe in any gathering? Tell them your brother killed himself. An immediate pall will fall over the group. Nobody will look you in the eye, and nobody will know what to say. I get it. Standing in the face of someone else’s grief is hard and awkward and painful. We don’t know what to say and we can’t fix it, so we just don’t show up. Well, sure we go to the funeral. We walk through the line and shake their hand or hug them, maybe murmur, “Sorry for your loss.” But then we disappear, and we tell ourselves the comforting lie that the person looks and acts like they are okay, so they must be just fine. That if they needed something, they would ask. I’m not pointing fingers because I’ve done it too. But let’s at least stop lying to ourselves. The person is NOT okay. They don’t have the emotional or mental capacity to ask for what they need. Heck, they probably don’t even know what they need. I know I certainly didn’t. They are grieving and grieving is hard, but it’s infinitely harder when you feel like you are doing it alone. All that person really needs is your presence. No fancy words or miraculous solutions. Just you sitting with them in their grief. I learned how powerful presence – even if the presence comes in the form of a card or phone call – can be when you are hurting, and I’ll never think of it as doing nothing again. Don’t let awkwardness keep you from offering your presence to someone who is hurting.
It isn’t really feasible to live our lives like it is our last day on earth. If I did that my house would be declared a disaster area, and I’d probably weigh about 300 pounds. But we can live our lives so we don’t have regrets.
What do you need to change so you can live a life of no regrets? I’d love to hear about it!