No Regrets by Conlee Ricketts
Living and dying—it’s a topic I’ve spent some time with. This was even before I had a child who has informed me that she is kind of counting on me to live forever—no pressure.
I was sitting in the hospital room with my Mom when she died; I was 32. My Dad and I sat there for an hour and a half waiting for a doctor to come in and confirm what we already knew. We sat, talked, laughed, and made plans until the doctor arrived. In a very anticlimactic way he checked to see if she was alive, wrote a time in her chart that was an hour plus incorrect, looked at us, said something and left. I shook my head and laughed after he walked out because it was almost as ridiculous as if he had come in, held a mirror under her nose, said “Yep, she’s a goner,” and walked out. Mom had cancer. There were no machines, or alarms or loud buzzers like in the movies—she just stopped breathing. It was really much more beautiful than that, but that’s not my purpose here; my purpose it to share my views on dying because of the way they have influenced my relationship with my daughter now—during the living.
My mom and I had a bristly relationship. I was ever the dutiful daughter doing all she requested so she could re-imagine her entire life through me. When I was old enough to see it I started to resent it, but I didn’t stop. I was never to fully rebel in her lifetime, but we did have a few moments where we would argue and wound each other verbally. During college I did things that she didn’t understand and even more words were said that hurt us both. I regret none of it. Why? Well it’s not because I’m a spoiled, insensitive little monster; it’s because of my love for her and the faith I have in my way of viewing death.
I firmly believe that at the moment of my Mom’s death all the mysteries of the Universe including the mysteries of her daughter were instantaneously revealed to her. Upon dying she was privy to all the answers she ever needed to understand who I was and at that blissful moment she “got me.” This is what I believe happens to each of us when we die. Why would any of us carry old hurts, old resentments, old anger, and old grudges with us into the next adventure? We wouldn’t. If anything at all we each have an instantaneous moment of “Ohhhhh, now I get it.” So with this as my own personal point of view I’ve never regretted anything said or unsaid to my Mom before she died.
All of that brings me great inner peace but I can’t guarantee my daughter will share my same philosophy; she has to figure all this stuff out for herself, and yet I want her to know that regretting anything about our mother/daughter relationship is completely unnecessary.
So to encourage regret free living I had a conversation with her when she was about seven. I know she was super little but I wanted to plant the seed early about what a mother’s love was really like. She had always enjoyed stories about when I was little and she knew that my mother and I had a relationship that was different from the kind I shared with her. The conversation went something like this:
“I want you to know that sometimes daughters get so mad at their mommies they feel like they hate them.”
“I would never hate you.”
“That would be great, but I just wanted to let you know that sometimes daughters do get angry and feel like they hate their mothers. BUT…now this is the important part…are you ready?”
“Mothers never hate their daughters. Ever. So if you ever get so mad at me that you feel like yelling ‘I hate you,’ just know that I understand and that I will always love you, no matter what.”
I realize that for some “hate” is an unacceptable, horrible, awful word. Not for me; for me it is merely four alphabet letters strung together in a particular order to convey a feeling or elicit a powerful reaction—these four letters only have power over me if I let them, so I don’t let them. When I’m dealing with an upset, angry, frustrated, or crying child, those four letters elicit the same reaction from me as “door” or “yard.”
The reality is there have been and will be moments that I piss my daughter off so bad she will see red. She will feel angry, misunderstood, frustrated, hurt, mistreated and a whole bunch of other feelings that I remember feeling toward my own mom, and she will only be able to scream, “I hate you!”
And that’s okay.
I will always love her.
Consequently, because she’s allowed to say this to me, she rarely does. When it does fly out of her mouth I don’t react. I calmly say, “That’s fine; you’re allowed to hate me today.” And I walk away. When she’s that upset she needs her space. Since I’ve given her permission to be so angry it doesn’t seem to last too long. She comes back to apologize and get a hug—we talk about it and I let her know how much I love her and that her words aren’t going to change that.
During my teens and twenties I continued to be dutiful and well behaved. Perfection was the goal for my mother so the only real act of rebellion was probably my language. Words were my weapon and I could wound quite easily. I had been wounded myself by life—by events and people in ways that I would ultimately never share with my mother. There were things we just didn’t discuss in our family so I’m sure at times my words, choices, and behaviors confused her. I want to avoid this with my own daughter by creating this safety net for her where she knows she can share any words with me without the fear of losing my love. I realize she will encounter a life different from my own; she will keep secrets and act in ways confusing to me, but on the day that I die and all the mysteries are revealed to me I want her to be 100% free of regrets about our relationship. I certainly don’t want her wasting a single moment worrying or re-hashing how she used her 26 alphabet letters.