Dealing with regrets.

One type of memory often causes people who are grieving a death immense pain - the memory of some event or conversation that they now much regret. There are many reasons for the immensity of that pain, but the universal one is that it is now too late - too late to say sorry; too late to explain; too late to put it right. Nothing can now be done, so the regret is unsalvable.

We then find ourselves caught up in the “if only” treadmill. If only I had kept my mouth shut. If only I had not had that second glass of sherry. If only I had realised they were cousins….It’s very familiar terrain, isn’t it?

Good hearted friends and relatives will try to jolly us out of it. “Well, nothing can be done about that now, so just forget about it.” Would it were that easy. “Time will do its stuff. In a year you will have forgotten all about it…” A year can feel a mighty long time…”Well, I am sure she has forgiven you now. They don’t bear grudges in heaven.” But they do in hell….

There is one process that you might like to try. We don’t guarantee it works for everyone; nor that it is appropriate for every regret. So no silver bullet. But at least give it a thought if you are bothered by regrets. There are two variants.

The first is simple in essence, but does require, time, work and imagination. It needs you to remember in detail the event you regret and then imagine going to the person you offended and making a full and honest apology - no excuses, no embroidery, no half truths. If it’s going to work, it has to be searingly truthful. Then imagine the reply you get. Again be as realistic and truthful as you can. Maybe there would have been no smile, no word of forgiveness, no reconciling embrace. Maybe not. If that is the case, you have much less to regret. More likely, however, there would have been all of those - and more. Now you have absolutely nothing to regret.

The second variant is similar in style, but it involves persuading someone who knew the deceased well to role-play him/her. The object is for your partner to play the role as faithfully as possible. If the person was a bully, it’s no good playing a milk-sop. If he was a saint, well, play a saint.

After the scene has been played out (and you may want to do it more than once), take time to talk it through with your partner. How did it feel playing that role? What would the person have actually felt, about both the offence and the apology? How easy would it have been to re-establish a relationship? And how does it all leave you feeling?