I received an e-mail from a friend. The subject: “Regret is an important teacher…” My eyes focus on the ellipsis, not the Huffington Post link. I think about the power of three small dots to punctuate what is left unsaid. In an instant my mother’s words, which in time had become her mantra, echoed in my mind’s ear: “You never regret what you don’t say.”
“What,” I would ask time and time gain, “did you say that you now regret?”
“Who remembers?” she’d say. Her tone and facial expression said otherwise. Invariably a drawn out sigh followed her words, which I interpreted to mean she longed for another chance.
. . .
Hovering over the link to the attached post I ask myself how my mother’s way of thinking and my question differs from what the social scientist Brené Brown’s post discovered in her research. “Who among us,” she asks, “has not looked back and said if I had to do this to do over again, I wish I would have done it another way?” Brown didn’t want to believe it but came to learn that facing regret can be a valuable learning experience.
What I know is that in the context of illness, not asking questions about prognosis, treatment options and quality of life considerations can have serious consequences leading to regrets that may not be so forgiving or can be changed.
. . .
In my role as medical humanist I often thought about what patients may regret not saying. So, in creating a template for questions that I would ask patients after their doctor visits, I included, “Is there anything you didn’t tell your doctor that you want him or her to know.”
Oftentimes, after reading my medical humanist’s note, doctors would say, “They never told me that.” This information provided an opportunity to address what may have been misunderstood or unspoken and, as a result, helped to minimize regrets.
. . .
I re-script my question. “What do you regret not saying?” I asked my mother.
“Ah…” she said holding on to that two letter word expressing her full range of emotions from that of surprise, pleasure and the realization of what she now knows that she would do differently.