No Regrets

by Rebecca Crichton

Non, je ne regrette rien!”  (No, I regret nothing!) croons Edith Piaf in the song indelibly identified with her. It doesn’t take too much delving to discover her life wasn’t all that easy. She might well have drowned in her regrets, given the challenges of her family history and her many event-filled decades as a cultural icon.

Good for you, Edith!

I’m not sure I believe you, but I have regrets aplenty and I am determined to examine them before I find myself sucked into their vortex.

I read an article that posited that when it comes to regrets, men and women think about them differently. Generally, the research seemed to indicate that men regretted what they had done that they later wished they hadn’t. For women, it was what they hadn’t done that was the source of their distress.

Men and women can both live in the past, regretting what they did or didn’t do. We all can remember in vivid detail both the serious traumas and the minor slights we endured. One researcher noted that the natural lifespan of a feeling is 90 seconds. We just keep hitting the reset button.

Reviewing and reconciling our past is an important and necessary task of aging. It is especially true if we are dealing with diagnoses and events that require us to confront our mortality. One thing we know for certain is that we will all die. How we choose to live with that reality can define how we go about our aging.

Reports from the bedsides of dying patients indicate that people rarely regret not having worked harder, not having kept a perfect home or other societally valued activities. While the ideal time for considering past regrets might not be on our deathbeds, that can be when some people are ready to unburden themselves.   

I believe learning and discovery happen throughout our lives. The natural healing power of grief – acknowledging, feeling and accommodating to our losses – is as important as how our bodies can heal from physical wounds and disease.

In a recent discussion about regret, a group member reflected on having said ‘No’ to many opportunities in her life out of fear. Now, as she deals with chronic disabilities, she says, “Acceptance is my goal. I need to say ‘Yes’ to my life.”

As we review our lives, we are tasked with recognizing how everything that has come before has defined who we are now. How do we come to terms with the past and release the hold regret has on us?

Acceptance and gratitude can mitigate regret. They are values and skills that can be learned and practiced throughout our lives.