Erica Brown, a scholar in residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, wrote a thought-provoking opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times. Titled “Death: A Nice Opportunity for Regret,” it ponders the combination of regret, repentance and the consideration of our own mortality.
She wrote, “We rarely connect regret to death, but then we rarely connect death to anything because we’d rather talk about grocery shopping, gardening and taxes.” She observed those who regret nothing may think by having no remorse they are not going to die.
Ms. Brown has a forthcoming book, Happier Endings: Overcoming the Fear of Death. As part of her research into the topic of regrets, she asked her students to list a small regret and a large regret. Here’s a random sampling from her story:
In the small-regret category:
I didn’t participate more in school.
I am sorry I didn’t take more vacations.
I was nasty to people.
I regret not trying harder in college.
I should have paused to notice a stranger and to express kindness to them.
I was callous in breaking up with a girlfriend.
I haven’t lost weight.
I did not purchase an exercise bike when it was on a great sale.[I did not make this up.]
In the large-regret category:
I wish I had spent more time with my mother the year she died.
I did not tell a friend why I ended our friendship.
I regret my failure to love my ex-wife in the manner she needed.
I never said thank you to my father.
I could have done more to help my brother when he was despairing and depressed.
I haven’t been more welcoming to my sister-in-law.
I retired too early.
I should have retired a long time ago.
I gave up on too many dreams.
What regrets might you be living with? More importantly, what can you do to improve your life now? Ms. Brown wrote, “You can’t eliminate a regret, but you can transform one…. I regret to inform you that you, too, are going to die. If you take heart, heed Arthur Miller’s sage advice and die with the right regrets.”