Hands down, the strongest, most destructive part of grief is regret. That ever-present feeling that you could have done more. Regret can become so strong that everything else about life gets tossed aside. It is exactly what happened to me.
The night before I lost my 17-year old son, Michael, in an auto accident, he had come over from his mother’s house to get something from my house. He was outside in the driveway playing basketball with my oldest son, Ronald. I looked down from the window upstairs and watched them for a few minutes. He didn’t see me. I had a long day and had a few other things to do. So I didn’t go downstairs. I simply figured I would catch up with him next time.
That was the last time I saw my son. For years after, I lived with this overwhelming regret and was stuck in this moment of time. It wouldn’t have taken long. And, more importantly, I would have had that “last chance” to be with him. Why didn’t I just go down?
Now, I knew that I couldn’t change the fact that he died the next day. But then, over time, I started to realize that I could change how I felt about that last regret-filled night. Naturally, I didn’t know it was his last night. So the point is this: Had Michael not died the next day, me not going down would have been just another ordinary thing. I would have seen him the next time — no big deal. I took for granted that Michael would be there. THIS was the real, true reason for the pain I felt about the last time I saw Michael.
This is where the loss of my son taught me something about living life. I wanted to begin living regret-free. So I knew that I needed to never take anything or anyone for granted again. Now, for men, showing gratitude is a tough thing to do anyway. We tend to just “go with it.” We don’t think that deep about the normal everyday things — like coming down the stairs and going outside to play after a long day. We just take for granted it will be there tomorrow.
Now pair that up with dealing with loss. What happens is that the mind often traps the good emotions underneath all the pain. What we need to do is open the mind’s vault and start to get some “grief relief” by letting out some of the positive emotions, like gratitude.
Try this — identify just one thing that you are currently taking for granted in your life. And then take one step toward showing your appreciation. It can be as simple as washing your car to show how important it is in your life. Once you become familiar with showing your thanks with the simple, it will become a bit more comfortable to show it for some of the more complicated.
To be truthful, this moment in my life haunts me to this day. It is why I am so passionate about never, ever, taking anything in my life for granted again. It is just one of the legacies left behind by my son, Michael. Start today by choosing to do one thing new for something or someone in your life. I guarantee you will feel a great smile all around you.
Ron Villano, 2011