By Pattie Mihalik
When one of my good friends was facing his last sunset, he centered his thoughts on his good life.
“Life has been good to me,” he affirmed, “and I have no regrets.”
A few minutes later, he said he did have one major regret: He wasn’t there for his children when they were growing up.
While his overseas job paid big money that allowed his family to have a great lifestyle, he said he paid the price.
“If I could do it over again I would think less about making money and more about enjoying time with my children,” he said.
When a palliative nurse recorded the most common regrets of dying, she said one of the regrets she heard most from male patients was that they placed too high a priority on their job and spent too little time with family.
We all have regrets and we don’t have to be at the end of life to think about them. But when someone insists they have no regrets at all, I think that’s a person who must not be very introspective. Maybe they mean they have no major regrets.
I find that the older I grow, the more I think about regrets that have only surfaced in later life.
One of my major regrets is that when I was happily surrounded by my large Italian family I didn’t realize the day would come when they were all gone.
Oh, sure, I loved all my aunts and my 11 cousins. They all helped shape me in significant ways, and I always knew how lucky I was to have them in my life.
But while I loved every minute of our animated family get-togethers, I couldn’t foresee the day would come all too quickly when they were all gone.
Perhaps few of us think about that while we still have family with us.
I did let each cherished family member know I loved them and appreciated all they had done for me. But I didn’t tell them often enough.
Do any of us really express our love often enough?
One of my biggest regrets is that I never told my mother how much I admire her. Sure, she knew I loved her. But I never expressed to her my gratitude and my respect for her remarkable strength.
Whether it was supporting two children with no help or dealing with physical setbacks, she met life head-on with strength that continues to inspire me years after she’s been gone.
But darn, I wish I would have told her those things while I had the chance.
Another major regret of mine is not sitting down with my grandparents and insisting they tell me about their past. They both came to America from a little village named Squillace in Calabria, Italy.
What did they tell me about Squillace and their life there? They told me next to nothing, only that it was a poor village and no one had much.
I regret that I didn’t ask more questions to draw them out while I still could.
I spent more time with my grandfather than any of his grandkids because I was the one who drove him wherever he wanted to go. So I had plenty of drive time to ask about his life before he came here.
All I remember my grandfather talking about was local politics. As a reporter whose job involves drawing people out, I could have done it with my grandfather but failed to do so.
My grandmother lived with us for many years after my grandfather died. With the hours we spent together in the same house, why did I not insist I wanted to hear more about her life in Italy?
I’ll tell you why. It’s because I made the same mistake so many people do. I thought I would have much more time with her. She died at 92. Did I think she would live forever?
In a word, yes. It’s far too painful for us to acknowledge we won’t always have our loved ones. We don’t want to think about the day they will no longer be here.
But that day does come, and in my case, I have a big void when it comes to family history.
I have long wanted to know what the village of Squillace looked like. In my mind I pictured narrow stone houses crudely made.
My daughter Maria, who has much better computer skills than I do, gave me an incredible gift when she went on the Internet and found videos of Squillace and Calabria. I was stunned to see a beautiful sea and beach.
Why did my grandparents never mention that?
When they came to America they moved to the Italian section of a coal region town named Shamokin. Their home was a small two-bedroom row home. How they raised five children there is beyond me.
Well, I just saw the video of homes built one upon the other in Squillace. Many sections had no space between homes crowded together in every direction.
My daughters and I are trying to plan a trip there to discover our roots. Perhaps I will find answers to questions I always wanted to ask but never did.
Regrets, I’ve got a few. How about you?
Contact Pattie Mihalik at firstname.lastname@example.org.