This is the last essay I wrote for ThemeStream.com before it went under. I don't even remember if it was ever published there, because the site was closed almost immediately after I submitted it.
My friend Rosie was dying. Knowing I had lost my only brother the year before, she asked my advice on how to prepare her family. I told her to do her best to see that they had no regrets.
Regret, I think, is the saddest word in the English language. A regret that you will carry to your grave is a pain that will never leave you. It may be bearable, but the wound never heals. I think I knew this instinctively as a child. For most of my growing up years, this was my good night litany to my mom: "Night-night, sweet dreams, sleep tight, see you in the morning, good night, I love you." I always felt that if she died during the night, I wanted to know that the last thing I said to her was, "I love you." With that knowledge, I could go to sleep feeling peaceful and secure.
I grew up, and eventually felt too foolish for a childish litany instead of a simple, "Good night." I left home and moved too far away to come home more than once a year, and some years I didn't even manage that annual visit. After a dozen years I began to feel that it was time to go home, time to move back to be with my family. But moving when I had an established life was daunting, so I kept putting it off. Eventually things started to come together, and my brother and I started planning the move in February of '96. I cannot for the life of me remember why the move was postponed—probably because I wanted my last paid vacation that summer. Whatever the reason, it was too late. My brother died suddenly in April. I moved anyway in August, but I was constantly tortured by my sisters' reminiscences of a brother I never really got to know as an adult.
Yes, I have regrets. I can't change the choices I've made in the past, and I've had to learn to deal with that. But I can try to minimize the poor choices of the past and learn from them, and try to live the rest of my life with as few new regrets as possible. I have had to make sacrifices to do this, but sacrifices and regrets are not the same thing. I left a happy life with my best friends to spend three wonderful years getting to know my sisters as adults. Then I moved away from my sisters to live close enough to my parents to be able to visit them frequently. Yes, I miss my friends. Yes, I miss my sisters. I get lonely sometimes. But my parents are getting older, and there is going to come a time when I lose one of them. When that time comes, I will have to face the greatest loss I have ever known. But my sorrow will be mingled with the peace of knowing that I was there for them when they needed me, the way they were always there for me when I needed them—and creating many loving memories in the process. And that, to me, is worth any sacrifice.