After someone passes away, it’s final. Seems obvious, right? Not as obvious as you may think. The finality of death and its impact can’t be fully understood until it happens. And when it does, it will continue to shock you every day.
I got no notice. The day my father passed away, he was driving, grocery shopping, and in great spirits. He was looking forward to moving across the street from me so we could spend more time together. And then he was gone.
The experience prompted me to help people fulfill their potential as friends and relatives before it’s too late. It’s likely you will have regrets no matter how much you do but you can reduce those regrets by thinking critically about what you can do while you still have a chance. Here’s a list of suggestions. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.
1. Take photos. I didn’t realize how few recent photos I had with my father until he passed away and I scrambled for them. I have a precious few. Since we saw each other so often, I didn’t think to take photos. Now I long for every one of them of us together. I don’t have enough. Never will now. Ask someone to take photos of you with your loved ones. You will cherish the photos when you can’t take any more.
2. Write a poem. I wrote many poems for my father as a child and for birthdays but I had not written one for many years. I wish I had so I felt like his thoughts about how much I love and appreciate him were fresh in his mind. It’s a nonsensical thought but you will find that irrational thoughts almost exclusively occupy your mind during the grieving process.
3. Make a special gift. A few years ago, my sister and I made a special album for our father. In the album, we included photos of our dad, photos of us together, poems, funny anecdotes, and gift cards to his favorite places. As soon as he opened it and saw the first page, he started crying. The only other time I ever saw him cry was at a funeral or when one of our dogs passed away.
4. Visit. I spent a lot of time with my father through the years but when it was over, it was not enough. I had plenty of more opportunities to see him and did not. I regret it now. I thought I had more time. I didn’t. Visit as often as you can.
5. Call. Fortunately, I called my father every day. If you’re not calling frequently, consider it.
6. Do something that he or she wants you to do. I wish I had taken the time to meet more of my father’s friends, taken a greater interest in them, or played bridge with him. He asked me if I wanted to learn. I didn’t think how happy it would have made him. Now I would give anything to spend that time learning something that he enjoyed so much. I simply wasn’t thinking. (I brought a fruit basket to his friends at the bridge club and I have made friends with his bridge partner and friend of 10 years. It would have made him so happy.)
7. Spend. I was pacing myself to provide additional financial support for my father. I forgot that I don’t get to pick the end date. I was left with a lot of savings and no father. While planning for a rainy day is smart, you may consider doing things you want to do now because you may never get to do them otherwise.
8. Make amends. I realize not every relationship is unicorns and rainbows. Be the best version of you. You can’t control how other people act but you will likely feel better that you did your best. Try. If it doesn’t work, try again if you can.
9. Express yourself. My father and I told each other we loved each other often. I encourage you to do the same. When I told my father we were on the verge of solidifying his move across the street so we could be closer to each other, he said, “Thank you. I really appreciate it Andrew.” Those were the last words he ever spoke to me. He passed away a few hours later.