Like millions of others around the world, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the sudden death of music icon, Prince at age 57.
In an attempt to deal with my own sense of loss, I turned on the morning news and heard a story that one of his friends felt remorse over her decision to not connect with him this past weekend. As well, I'm sure there are others in his circle who have not healed or repaired emotional wounds with him, as that is often the case with any of us. We've all heard stories where hurt feelings and anger have created a chasm of silence between once lovers, friends and/or family members.
In my work as head of the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, I've spoken with hundreds if not thousands of people over the years. Many who struggle most with the grief process are those coping with the shock of sudden loss, whether it is caused by accident, suicide or medical event. I can place myself in that category, as at age 9 my own father died unexpectedly, the result of a fatal heart attack at age 39.
For years following my dad's sudden death, I felt off-center though I was surrounded by loving family and friends. I felt sure that at any moment, life would again upend itself, thus creating a daily ritual of movement without sure footing.
However, once in college I began to study the work of psychiatrist, hospice pioneer and author of On Death and Dying, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Her teachings helped to make sense of my loss, grief journey and adopted philosophy. The following quote had a tremendous impact on my day-to-day life and subsequent relationships as it helped to cement within me a personal mantra of "Live Life Fully" that to this day "sits well" with my mind and soul:
"It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth, that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, that we will begin to live each day to the fullest as if it was the only one we had." - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD
In this quote, Kubler-Ross alludes to the transient nature of life -- all life, including that of Prince and any one of us. It also doesn't espouse platitudes that often accompany contemporary responses to grief and sudden loss. Most notably, it focuses on the cognition of "uncertainty" and harnessing the power of living amidst it -- using uncertainty to fuel purposeful living.
The same can be said of "regret." In the few past years, we as a society have bantered the phrase "no regrets" as though having regrets is a bad thing. Regret and learning opportunities can co-exist as harmonic motivators for a new way of being in the world, especially for the grieving. In fact, regret can be one of the most powerful forces to use as a stepping-stone to post-traumatic growth or forward movement.
So for those coping with "regret" as part of their grief journey, I ask you to embrace it saying, "YES! I have regrets. Of course, I do," and don't see it as a negative thing. You can wish you had seen your friend before he or she died. You can wish you had healed a rift before that person's death and yes, you can step forward over a metaphorical threshold when you are ready, acknowledging that regrets exist, life is uncertain and NONE of us are perfect, including you and I both, which leads me to share this last nugget of wisdom from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross:
"The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well."
Please try to be gentle with yourself as your mourn those you love and care for. They would want that for you. I'm sure of it.