Two days ago, my almost-85-year-old father died. It happened peacefully at home before breakfast on Monday morning. It was not unexpected — on the contrary, he’d been battling MRSA for several years, and undergoing thrice-weekly kidney dialysis for over two years.
He’d had a pretty full life: he served in the Army in Germany during WWII, got married, had 4 children, 14 grandchildren and 1 great-granddaughter (so far). He won photography awards year after year. Professionally, he was a geologist, with a side foray into archaeology in his later years. He was active in volunteer and professional organizations.
He had a wonderful, dry wit and he loved puns.
At the end, he lived with his wife of 58 years (my mother) and his grandson, who had moved in with them a couple of years ago to help with his care (my youngest son. I’m so proud of him!).
Those of us who loved him had watched him deteriorate physically, sometimes in giant plunges and sometimes in baby stumbles. It was scary and terribly sad to watch a man who loved to read, a talented photographer, unable to do either as macular degeneration took its toll. It was horrifying to see a man who’d been active and engaged in scientific pursuits letting his microscope and other instruments collect dust as he didn’t have the energy to continue his research and consulting work. As his physical capacity shrank, so did his conversation.
Now, even that is gone.
Regrets: The Road Not Taken
According to an article at AARP:
“Researchers have noticed age-related distinctions in how and why we experience regret. The young are more likely to regret things they did rather than things they didn’t do. After all, at that stage in life there’s still time to see Australia, climb K2, or write a novel. But as we age, this tendency reverses, and it’s what you didn’t do that stings. When you look back and see all the mountains left unclimbed, the sense of loss can be devastating.” Read the entire article
My father’s death has reminded me — viciously and viscerally — just how short life is. If you delay your plans, hopes and dreams too long, you may never experience their reality.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to live in another country. I didn’t do it when I was young and unencumbered. I didn’t do it when I had a young family, or a growing family.
Now I’m rapidly approaching an empty nest, and I’ve been making plans to finally make the move. I don’t want that particular missed opportunity to remain on my stockpile of regrets.
My father’s passing has reminded me that I need to hurry.
Anysia (Booklorn on Twitter)
I’m sorry for your loss, truly. I have been watching my father deteriorate for quite a few years (self-inflicted, unfortunately) and the difference between the way he treats his retirement and the way my mother treats hers is huge.
He retired and essentially did very little. My mother retired and finally became the artist that she always wanted to be, but didn’t have time to be while raising a family.
She taught me that it’s never too late to pursue your passions. He taught me that you have make an effort to do so or you’ll stop growing.
Living in another country is amazing. I did it as a child and to this day it informs the way I view the world.
As the commercial says, “Just do it!”
Anysia, thank you for the kind words. It sounds as though your parents provide inspiration to you from both directions.
I liked this blog the moment it clicked on my screen…
I also love your article on “One heaping portion of regret”.
Funny thing is, my regret seems to be a little in reverse?
While I was living in Mexico, my most dearly and beloved Grandmother started failing. She was nearing 86 and was beginning to show signs of Alzheimer’s Disease… with each call home to my parents, and with news of Grandma’s failings, I would inwardly cringe and endure stabs of pain in my heart, and try to shake off the guilt of me living my dream in another country, while Grandma suffered.
I couldnt afford to fly home regularly to be near her, and it was impossible to up and move back to the states, to be closer geographically. So, I tried to take the ‘bad news phone calls in stride….until the fateful day, when I was notified that she was in hospital. She never went home after that….
The worse of it all, after her being there for me all my entire life, loving me, being the best Grandma a young girl could ever have, I found it impossible to be able to fly home to attend the funeral. Again, lack of funds…and lack of being able to get away so quickly.
I have the rest of my life to live with that regret. Was it worth it to be “off” doing what I wanted to with my life? Well, I cant answer that. But, the price I will pay for the rest of my life, is the regret and pain that stays in my heart.
Living away is a wonderful adventure, but, it can have its drawbacks too.
The next time I leave the country to live, I will have a special fund for my “return” flight and living arrangements, should I ever need to be there for someone in my family, or a dire emergency.
Wonderful thought provoking post!
Valerie, thanks for the kind words, and for sharing your experience. My husband and I also ask each other sometimes whether the geographic distance will become an issue. At this point, we’re a plane ride away from almost everyone in both our families (we’re in Central FL, and they are up and down the East Coast — mostly in the northeast), so my thinking is, it doesn’t really matter where the plane trip originates. But we certainly have felt that pull even without being in another country!
Having a special emergency return fund makes a LOT of sense!
All the best,
I am very sorry for your loss. It sounds like your father was a wonderful, interesting man and that you were very fortunate to have him in your life!
I have a little mantra (for lack of a better term) that I employ from time to time in my life. If I am feeling uncertainty, anxiety, anger or any similarly debilitating, negative emotions I picture myself at the very last days of my life and as that older self I turn to the me of today and pass comment. The older me always says ‘just dont worry about the small things, just get on and enjoy your life, do what you can to have fun.’ Helps me keep perspective and be a bit more brave than I might have been otherwise.
I think it was Mark Twain that said something along the lines of ‘you’ll never regret taking that road, but you’ll always wonder about it if you don’t.’
Thanks, Michelle. I like your mantra! It forces you to immediately gain some perspective on the situation. Thanks for sharing it.
My condolences to you and your family on your father’s loss. I loss my father almost 20 years ago when he was only 40 years old, and your dad seems to have lived a long and full life.
Your website has been very helpful in getting me organized in preparation for a move to France in about 3 years.
One of my favorite poems by Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, is about depression and loss but also a wakeup call to remind us that we’ve got miles to go before we sleep:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Thanks, Patrice, yes we were lucky to have my Dad around as long as we did. And the last couple of years were unexpected. We really didn’t expect him to hang on as long as he did — I think it’s that dominant stubbornness gene — but watching him lose the ability to do the things he’d always enjoyed most was really hard.
I love the poem you quoted. I’m a big Frost fan, and I think of that one often. Thanks for taking the time to share it.
Do you know what part of France you’re going to?
All the best,
I’m looking at Paris in particular but also Ile-de-France in general because I know that Paris can be expensive.