Life will bring us the highest highs and the lowest lows. Our heart fills up and empties out, sometimes in a matter of minutes. Then we shake the dust as best as we can and walk on.
A year ago today I lost my father, and 2018 for me was a year of mending my heart. However, I just realized it takes longer than that to mend a broken heart – and it may never be the same again.
When talking about grief, people talk about those famous stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The one feeling I don’t hear much about is regret. The first time I heard about regret in relation to grief was from Sean Johnson, at Baktifest in California, a few years back.
So far, I have always referred to regret as a “useless emotion.” It takes you nowhere as you cannot change the past. Now, I am starting to see it differently. I still know we cannot change our past, but we can change the way we do things in the future, based on our experiences and, most importantly, we can reframe the past – but that, my friends, that is not easy. And that’s one of the things I’ve been working on for the past year.
I am from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and have been living in the US for the past 20+ years. I go back to visit my family once a year. My relationship with my father, for most of my life, was not perfect. He wasn’t around much when I was growing up and I missed him a lot. Then, the teen years brought a dose of anger into that dynamic and I spent years being very resentful of him. As a young adult, a boyfriend urged me to rebuild my relationship with my dad, so I would have no regrets later.
People will dispense all kinds of advice all the time, and most of the time we just dismiss them. However, this time, for whatever reason, I took it to heart, and spent the next few years rebuilding my relationship with my dad. On my annual visits home, I would try to spend time with him and have meaningful conversations with him. Asking about my mom (she died when I was little), letting him talk about how they met, stories from their life together, stories about my siblings and me as kids. Those conversations were precious, and they helped me to see him as a person, just like me, with shortcomings, limitations and flaws. I was able to see him as someone who was also doing his best, with the tools he had.
The last time I saw my dad alive as in October of 2017. I went home for my sister’s 50th birthday and chose to spend a lot of time with him. He was not well, but we did not know how serious it was. His energy, which used to be high and vibrant, was gone. He did not move much, slept a lot, ate very little. He complained of aches and pains, his neck was stiff, his knees hurt. I convinced my sister to take him to a chiropractor, not a common profession in Brazil, but we found one and took him for a visit. He had a few adjustments, but there was not much that could be done, after years of poor posture. I hope those adjustments eased his pain a little. He was stoic, we will never know for sure.
By Christmas, he was very sick. There was more going on than he would tell us. On January 1st, 2018, he was hospitalized. My sister tried to call me, I was busy and didn’t answer. Then I kept trying to call her for the next few days but I couldn’t get through. I finally found out my dad was in the hospital and her phone didn’t work there.
For the next few days, I couldn’t decide if I should go home or not. There was just so much going on. So much work. My former assistant had just moved on to a new job, I was interviewing people, but the work was piling up. There was the studio and all kinds of events planned. I stayed in touch with my family, and tried to convince myself that he would recover and go home.
There were tests to be done. There was waiting. I talked to him once while he was at the hospital, he didn’t make much sense, but I was told he had those moments. Something was wrong with his liver, which I was told may cause mental confusion.
Should I go? Should I not go?
Talk to this person, that person, the other person. Get different perspectives. Get info about his condition. Try to be rational.
Can I go?
I had just started a beginner series at the studio. It was a 5-week series, I didn’t want to let the clients down.
The weight of the responsibility, always that – wait, I learned that from him! He taught me to be responsible, present, show up for my obligations, be a reliable adult.
Those days were horrible and, in a way, I have been reliving them since the beginning of this year.
While I was still trying to decide what to do, on January 10th, my father had cardiac arrest and was moved to intensive care. I was on my PJ’s watching TV when my sister’s call came. It was too late to fly that evening, even if I could get a ticket.
I was able to book my flight for the next evening, January 11th, arriving to Rio on the 12th.
I started to pack, while praying for him to wait for me. I didn’t want to go to bed, was afraid of my dreams. At some point, while packing, two of the light bulbs in the living room went out. The clock on the stove showed 1:11. And somehow I knew… he wouldn’t make it.
I finally went to bed, but before I prayed some more, asking him to wait for me.
When I woke up in the morning, there was a message from my brother in one of our Whatsapp family groups saying my dad had passed away earlier that morning. And just like that, I was that little girl again. He didn’t wait. It wasn’t about me, it was his time, I know.
He gave me 10 days to visit him, to say goodbye to him. Why did I not go?
In the scheme of things, there are big and small regrets, I suppose. This is a big one, but not as big as it would be if I hadn’t re connected with him when I had the chance to. If I hadn’t worked so hard to get over the resentments and found a way to love him again.
But it’s there. Weaker maybe, but it’s there. Regret is corrosive, it eats one up, it makes me desperately want to change the past. But I can’t. All I can do is keep working on reframing those memories, the experiences. And work on being kinder to myself, a human with flaws and limitations.
Part of my work as a yoga teacher is to teach people to be kinder to themselves, to accept and respect their limitations, to have compassion for themselves and others. I was told once that we bring to class what we need to learn. I couldn’t agree more!
I want to start to move on from this awful feeling and dedicate my energy to honoring my father’s memory, all that he’s given me, all the sacrifices he made for me.
I want to forgive myself, and through that forgiveness find my way back to pure love.