Thinking About Regret
All weekend and continuing this morning, my Facebook feed has been full of people mourning our friend Paula. Two things are consistent throughout: Paula was an amazing artist, and Paula was a kind, enthusiastic, wonderful person. I have often wondered what people will say about me when I go. If I could choose between people saying I was good at something—art or writing or my job—or saying that I was a kind person, I’d much rather the latter. So many of the people leaving comments on the mourning posts have been saying things like “Her work will live on.” And this is a comfort, to be sure. Paula cared deeply about art, her work deserves to be seen, and I want it to keep being seen. Still, though, I’d rather have her.
I can’t help thinking, too, what a shame it is that so often we don’t say these wonderful things about people while they’re still alive to hear it. I hope Paula knew how loved she was by everyone. I hope people told her what a bright light she was. A little over a year ago I spent an hour talking with her about her work for my show. I certainly complimented her work at the time, and have done many times. But I can’t remember if I ever told her how much it meant to me that she was so nice to me.
By now I have lost what feels like so many people I’ve cared about, and every time I have been struck with regret for what I didn’t say to them while I could. And this keeps happening, even though I keep telling myself not to let it happen again. Perhaps this is just how it goes. Perhaps there’s just no way to say it all. There isn’t time, especially for those of our friends and loved ones who we don’t see often. I mean, it is nice to imagine that kind of openness but there is always more to say, and eventually you’d want to talk about something other than just compliments. After all, it’s mostly those other conversations and interactions that form the foundation of the relationship. And I do think that there is something to be said for the idea that we can know a person’s love and regard through their actions toward us. That in many ways that may be a deeper intimacy. But still, it’s good to hear it out loud, too.
Every time I lose someone, I can’t help but think of every other person I’ve lost, and how though this list feels long already, I know it will only get longer. When I was a teenager I hoped to live a life without regret. I am sure now that if I get to live to an old age, I will have accumulated more regret than I will be able to count. And yet, in a way perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Regret comes from not doing that which you wished to have done. But the wishing comes from a happier place. I couldn’t regret the things I didn’t say to my loved ones if I hadn’t loved them in the first place. New love does not fill in the hole left by a loss, it doesn’t make us forget the pain. And perhaps every new love means a new future regret. But new love does grow us. If loss erases something from the canvas of our soul, new love gives us new space to paint anew.
I don’t know that a post like this needs to end with a call to action but if there is to be one it would just be what I always say: if there’s someone who matters to you, whether for their work or their personality or the way that are in your life, I hope you’ll tell them.