What they don’t tell you about grieving and regretting: Wake-up calls


Grieving and regretting often go hand-in-hand. And that can be so hard when you’re in the midst of it, because we humans don’t exactly embrace regret.

Instead, we proclaim “no regrets” and expect a life free of it.

And yet, for all that, during times of loss and grieving and regretting, we are perhaps more in touch with the deepest aspects of ourselves. We’re closer than ever to understanding what’s real and true for us.

Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.

-Oscar Wilde

The irony is that grieving and regretting often lead to the most profound wake-up calls.

Without a doubt, times of grief and loss can be hard and painful and unrelenting. I don’t want to minimize that for a second.

For sure, loss shakes you up. It can take you to your knees.

But thing is, it has the capacity to wake you up too.

To who you are at your core. To what truly matters to you.

Here’s an example of what I mean: right now a friend is embarking on a cross-country journey.

Her journey comes after she experienced the loss of a loved one (and some feelings of regret) last year. On this trip she’ll be spending time with the people she most cares about.

Similarly, I’ve watched many clients respond to the wake-up calls that come through grief and regret. As a result of them, they’ve moved, quit jobs, sold homes, got married (or divorced), started businesses, decided to have children, made their health and self-care a priority.

And when I lost my brother 10 years ago, my grieving and regretting propelled me to reach out to my other brother. Both of us were surprised (and not expecting much) when I suggested we start meeting regularly for lunch. We were equally surprised when our once-distant relationship blossomed and you couldn’t get us to stop talking.

The regret that comes with loss and grief has the power to change the trajectory of your life.

Sometimes these wake-up calls happen almost instantaneously, but not always.

When I lost my mother I was barely out of my teens. And her death was unexpected and shocking. Even though I put up a good front and tried to go through the motions of living (because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do), I was pretty lost.

Still, a wake-up call was brewing for more than a year. In the midst of the floundering and grieving and regretting, I yearned to go home again. An almost unconscious voice kept telling me to get back to California, even though I knew my mom wasn’t there anymore.

As muddled and rocky as those times were when I returned home, I can see now that my life probably would have turned out very differently if I hadn’t followed that sad call. And even though there will always be a little piece of my heart missing because I lost my mom, I’m still very grateful that I made my way home when I did.

The thing about grieving and regretting is to take the helpful parts and release the rest.

Regret is paradoxical. Both life-affirming and life-sucking. It can wake you up and help you see something important about your life and yourself you haven’t seen before.

Or, it can keep you down by leaving you feeling full of guilt and self-doubt.

So if you’re experiencing grief-related regret that has no clear wake-up call or positive function, please don’t beat yourself up.

You did the best you could. You’re doing the best you can.

Take heart, and understand that you’re allowed to let the regret go.

If you are in the sometimes more difficult aspect of the Life/Death/Life cycle, meaning in the side of entropy, losing energy, death, and all this occurs before transition to new life of whatever stripe or kind…the most enduring lantern I can light for you on your way through the dark, carries this one little but eternal golden flame: It has been so, it is now so and it will ever be so, that death is a night between two days.

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

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It is my great joy to offer counseling, therapy and life coaching to women. You can work with me in my Santa Rosa office, as well as by telephone/secure video if you’re outside the area. To schedule a free consultation, click here or call 707-742-9844.

Patty Bechtold

Patty Bechtold

I help women find their way back to their deepest wisdom when they feel like something’s missing in their lives or themselves. On my blog I write about the stories, insights, ideas, and wise words I’ve picked up along the way. Thank you for being here.