“If only I’d known that was the last time I would see them, there’s so much I would have said.” “There was so much left unsaid – I thought we had more time.”
“I hope they know how much they meant to me.”
“If only I’d told them how much I loved them.” “If only I could see them one more time, there is so much I would say.”
Living with regrets is difficult
Living with regrets, with things unsaid can feel like torture. To have “unfinished business” or “unresolved issues” with someone when they’re gone is not something you can undo. We all are so wrapped up in “to do’s,” the next thing on our list, getting to the next event, the next meeting, getting off the phone or out the door, that sometimes we rush along mindlessly without stopping to acknowledge those closest to us. It’s so easy to take them for granted – certain that we’ll have more time, or the right time, to express how we feel or to apologize for our failings or misunderstandings.
It’s easy to get caught up in the year-end frenzy, but it’s also the perfect time to stop and really tune in to the people in our lives. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and decided to stop thinking and do something about it…
I remember back a few years ago, when as a gift for Christmas, my husband, our two sons and I wrote letters to each other. Heartfelt and genuine – notes of thanks, appreciation, fond memories and funny stories.
We exchanged them on Christmas morning – best gifts ever!
I have been writing letters to the people closest to me to tell them how I feel
Drawing on that, I’ve been writing letters to the people closest to me and telling them all the things I want them to know, so that when I’m gone, they’ll have something to look back on. Starting at the beginning of our relationship and including funny memories, telling them what I’ve learned from them and what I admire about them – and how much I love them.
Writing these letters has been a wonderful trip down memory lane – birth stories, how we met stories, “remember the time” stories, etc. It’s also made me get really clear and expressive about how I feel about them – not leaving anything unsaid. Reading these letters with them has been brought up all kinds of emotions – really good ones, deep ones – nothing left unsaid. Because I’ve found, when you really open up to someone and let yourself be vulnerable, people feel safe to do the same.
We all crave connection with the ones we love, and sometimes it’s hard for this to come naturally – especially when you no longer live under the same roof. Finding interesting ways to open up and share how you feel and being open to hearing how your family feels, is deeply gratifying and sometimes life changing.
5 ways to connect/reconnect, open up and strengthen your bonds
- Talk about the music you’re all listening to – and play it for each other. A few topics to get things started: “What song/s do you play when you work out,” “What do you play when you’re feeling down,” “What do you listen to when you’re mad, happy, bored, etc,” “Your most played song this year.” Hearing what other people listen to is very insightful and very personal – plus you get exposed to music you might not have normally listened to.
- Ask some thought-provoking questions and let each person answer – “What is your favorite childhood memory?” “Growing up, what did you think all families did (or had) but learned they didn’t?” “If you could travel anywhere, where would it be and why?” “What was your favorite family tradition and why?” The answers may surprise and delight you – plus, you get to hear about their experience being part of this family from their point of view – not just your memory. And if they have significant others or friends along, it’s fun to learn about other families.
- Figure out your family’s “common ground” – what you all love to do as a family and memorialize that in some way. It might be watching/playing sports, going to see plays or musicals, watching movies, or trying to new restaurants. Ours is cooking and eating together. So, one year, we made a family cookbook with all our favorite family recipes. Cooking as a family was something we all loved to do so we had tons of recipes from several generations. Many of ours were handwritten or copied from magazines and cookbook or printed internet recipes, with our notes written on them. So, my husband and I made copies of them and put them in a custom notebook we ordered online. Now when our grown kids need a recipe, they have them all in one place. I love when they call because they’re making something and have a question – it takes me back to when we made that recipe together.
- Play a made-up game intended to get each other talking: I made up a game we called My Best Advice (I made sure my husband was on board in case anyone tried to back out or roll their eyes. No need to worry as it turns out, they were all open to the idea and it wound up being really fun). We all wrote down ten pieces of advice on ten scraps of paper that we folded up and put in a pile in the center of the table. From simple to silly – some were very personal and serious, and some were just hilarious. We took turns opening them reading them aloud and then trying to guess who wrote it and what we thought about the advice. We laughed a lot, but we also were surprised by how serious some were and that was really special.
- Exchange handwritten notes with each member of your family – write about you admire about them, what you’ve learned from them, your favorite memory of them or anything else you’ve been meaning to tell them.
Maybe this year, in addition to gifts and well wishes, we stop and tell people how we really feel about them, write it down and give them something they can hold onto and read and reread.
How comforting to know that nothing was left unsaid – no regrets or “if only”s, just real, heartfelt feelings that will live on long after we do!
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