What is the biggest regret you had after your spouse died? – And how are you using it to help yourself heal?

The title of my article is based on a question recently posed by our Founder, Herb Knoll, to a group of widowers.  It is both a challenging and painful question to answer, but it can also be a helpful tool in healing.  I don’t propose any clear-cut way to answer the question; it’s purely subjective, and each answer will vary.  I prefer to explain my biggest regret and how I am trying to use it as a tool for healing.

As I have shared with you, my wife suffered from end-stage kidney disease.  She fought the good fight every day and, during the last six months of her life, lost part of her leg to amputation and slowly declined in various other ways.  Anticipatory grief entered my life in those days as I knew I would have to face her final days in the not-too-distant future.  It was so difficult to see my wife, the strong, successful, and extremely bright lady, succumb to her illness.  In the final eight days of her life, she was in a Hospice program at our local hospital.  Since it was during the early days of the pandemic, I was the only one who could stay overnight with her.  My son and daughter, and I took turns as I felt it was important for the children to be with her as well.

My brother-in-law was with us but did not want to stay overnight as he was dealing with the impending loss of his only sister.  I sometimes felt guilty for not being at her side, but I thought I had to give my children the time so they could say goodbye.  I also, in retrospect, think that I was running away from the inevitable.  I did not want to face her death and, at times, would let a few friends have time with my wife.  I was trying to avoid her death because it frightened me so much.

One of the chaplains who visited my wife frequently was an older Catholic nun.  We are not Catholic, but we welcomed her support to my wife.  One of the comments the lovely religious sister kept saying to me was, “Wow!  In a few days, your wife will shake hands with the Lord”  I don’t think she could understand what I was going through and did not grasp the impact her words had on me.

I wanted to tell her, “My wife will die very soon, and my world will end.  As a religious person, I believe in the afterlife and would one day celebrate the joy of being in the presence of the Almighty.  Right now, however, all I see is darkness, pain, and tears.  I am not celebrating; I am weeping.  I am about to mourn the love of my life, whom I will never share another moment with until I die.  I am about to hit bottom and uncertain where I may end up.  I see no hope.  I want to run away, but I know I cannot escape the grief I will soon enter.

On the morning of the eighth day, at 745am, my children and I went to get coffee as my wife was sleeping.  Within ten minutes while we were out of the room, we got the call my wife had died.  I felt pangs of guilt!  Why did I get coffee?  Why didn’t I wait?  I knew this would haunt me, and did not know what to do.  I just blew my only opportunity, and now I must live with this regret.

For the longest time, I wondered why I did something or why I did not do that.  I let my mind control a situation I had no control over.  Yes, my wife died, but I could not stop it.  I wanted to rewind the clock.  I wanted everything to go back to her being alive again.  Wishful thinking but not realistic.  I decided I had to get control of the regret and somehow move forward.

 With time I realized that my wife was physically no longer with me, but her heart, voice, thoughts, and being would live in me until I died.  I often speak with her and get her advice on how to deal with many problems and concerns.  I know what she would say and what path to follow.  Thirty years of marriage taught me a few things, and as she would say, hopefully, you will learn a few things, Tom, along the way. 

My healing tool has been to let go of what I cannot change, accept life with all its possibilities and opportunities, and learn to enjoy and cherish life’s special moments.  I have also learned that death and sadness will never change and will continue to hurt, but I have become stronger through the sorrow.  I try to pay tribute to my wife by living life as she did, with a passion for all it offers.  It’s a struggle at times, but to quote her,” I won’t ever give up!

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