I was sitting around a table with other widowers and widows when a phrase from my early parenting days popped into my head.
During these support groups, it’s not unusual to talk about the guilt a person feels. It comes out in questions such as: Why did I do that as her caregiver? Why didn’t I do this? Why did I say this to him the last time I saw him on the day he died suddenly and unexpectedly? Why didn’t I say that? Why didn’t I tell him just one more time how much …?
The phrase that came to mind was: “The time machine is broken.”
That’s what my late wife Monica and I used to say to our kids when they were going on and on about something that had happened. A sibling did this to him. A classmate did that to her. There was a missed recess or extra homework assignment because one student broke a class rule. It went on and on. Whatever it was, it was an outrage.
I hope Monica and I were patient when we pointed out that there’s no going back to change or fix things. Needless to say, none of our three ever answered, “Oh, thank you so much for pointing that out. I feel all better now.”
Humans want to change things, to fix them. We want to climb into a machine and get a do-over, and not just for big things, but for little things that at the time seem like big things.
Why did I pick that paint color for the kitchen? Why did I buy my new computer last week when this week a much better one is on sale? Why didn’t I stay in school and get that degree? Why did I switch jobs? Why did I move here? Why did I wait so long to retire?
But, of course, in life, some things can be changed. You can repaint the kitchen, get an even better computer or finish that degree online. Some things, while not “fixed,” can be adjusted. We may even start to see the pluses of a new job or location.
Truth be told, some of life’s harshest, unchanging realities can lead us to good changes, too. That also comes up during a grief support group.
Some say, “I’m working at taking better care of my own health.”
Others say, “I hug my kids and grandkids all the time now and tell them I love them and I don’t care if they feel a little embarrassed by that.”
The wisest will say, “I still think about what I wish I could have done differently, but I’m starting to remember more of what the two of us did right. What we had. It was so good. And I’m starting to realize that’s why, for now, I feel so bad. This grief is awful. That love was worth it.”