“Your sharing your dying with all of us must mean so much to more people than just me. It makes me re-visit the days with my father. How honored I was and how lucky I was to be the one who took care of him until he died. You provoke so much thought and re-assessment of what is really important.
“You're like a young Maude! Loved 'Harold and Maude', it is one of the movies that shaped my life and who I (feel) I am. 'Auntie Mame' w/Rosalyn Russell (I think), 'Razor's Edge', 'A Thousand Clowns' w/Jason Robards
“On those nights when sleep eludes you, perhaps enjoy one of those movies.
“The lyrics to Adele's "Someone Like You" keep going through my head ‘Regrets and mistakes, they are memories made...who would have known how bitter sweet this would taste.’”—from a very favorite reader in her 40s.
A snippet of dialogue from the movie “Manhattan”:
Finally realizing he loves the girl, the Woody Allen character responds to her soulful, “You really hurt me,” with—
“It was not on purpose. It was just the way I was thinking at the time.”
I love Allen’s movies, including the least of them. At his best, as he was in “Manhattan,” Allen writes dialogue that defines characters and their states of mind and places in time. He understands the basic truth about neuroses, mental health issues, mental illness—whatever you want to call the problems of the psyche that plague us, stopping short of psychotic behavior. And he pulls off that tricky maneuver: using self as a bridge to others.
He gets it. The way I was thinking at the time—wrong—was the fertile ground for behavior that would lead to regrets. He gets it. When you stop thinking that way, you can’t expect the people you hurt to climb into your head and realize it is a safer place to visit now. He gets it. Our failure to connect is a matter of the head, not the heart.
I’ve watched a lot of movies these past few months, mostly late at night when cancer wakes me from a troubled sleep, gnaws on my left hip and sometimes whispers a single word, Regrets.
I turn on the TV and flip through the movie channels.
“Thelma and Louise” sailing into space. Diane Keaton choosing Jack Nicholson over Keanu Reeves in “Something’s Gotta’ Give”, and Meryl Streep picking Steve Martin over Alex Baldwin in “It’s Complicated.” (The wrong choices, each time. Would you give up whatever time Keanu would sustain an interest in you for the end of Nicholson’s life? Martin, not Baldwin? Please. )
From the last few weeks: “The Kids Are All Right,” with its achingly real portrayal of marriage and family, “Giant,” another kind of family, cinematic, but compelling, “Rear Window,” Grace!, “Charade,” Audrey!, “Some Like It Hot,” Marilyn!, “The Ghost Writer,” “The English Patient,” “American Beauty” and so many more—recent films and classics, my mother’s favorites and Ellen’s, movies I saw with special boys and men, movies that mark historical places of the heart.
Can the movies hold regret at bay?
It might surprise readers to know that I have as many regrets as I do. They write to tell me how much they admire the way I am dying and cite the lessons I am teaching them. Yes, I have chosen to hold onto good memories and let go of bad—the best lesson I have to teach anyone. I am touched that some people are thinking more carefully about their lives, especially how they spend time, because they are reading about my life, where too much time was wasted on shallow little people and trivial pursuits.
They say I am brave; and I know that I’m not. I think of Sidney Carton, the indifferent attorney in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, my favorite of his novels. When Carton loved Lucie, he was transformed into a man whose death—and I am paraphrasing because I can’t find the quote—was the best part of his life. Did Sidney have regrets, not articulated perhaps because he needed to be brave for someone else?
The image of someone marching bravely toward death, with no apology, no explanation, no regret is a popular one.
Edith Piaf sang, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.” She had no regrets. When she sang it, that song sounded like the French national anthem.
Frank Sinatra did it his way, noting “Regrets, I’ve had a few but then again too few to mention.”
They left the stage with a proud swagger, never looking back.
Reality is more complex than that. I have regrets. I am trying to die well—helping others as I go—but it’s my last, far from only, chapter.
Like phantoms, regrets spring from the middle-of-the-night shadows and jump onto the bed where they sit beside me, waiting for me to notice them when the final credits roll. My eyes blur and I think I will push the regrets away and fall asleep, but I don’t, not so easily anymore.
Maybe your life rushes by at the last moments before dying—as we’ve been told it does. Before that big finale, the past does a slow crawl across the ceiling over your head and flashes intermittently at inconvenient times, like in the middle of a dinner conversation with a friend or riding alone on a commuter train surrounded by purposeful people. Life’s pivotal moments show on your face like a bra strap sliding off the shoulder.
One of those moments: When I told her I was getting a divorce, my mother said, “You have a good husband and a comfortable life. Why don’t you stay married and have discreet affairs?”
Do you know how often I have wondered if I should have taken Mama’s advice? Carolyn, Marilyn and Lorraine, the happiest most interesting and most comfortable women I know over fifty, have good husbands.
I regret not addressing my own mental health issues earlier. I regret that I did not have the nerve to be as fearless and vulnerable in love as I have been in written expression and in standing up for sexual empowerment. I regret that I did not write a book called My Mother Is Driving Me Crazy wherein I confronted my mother-daughter and mother-son relationships while there was time to work things out.
Quoted in the opening of this post, one of my favorite correspondents, a savvy European lady—and I have come to depend on her literate, entertaining letters when the movies fail me—wrote about her own relationship with her teen sons:
“I wonder what will happen w/my boys once they are off on their own. I foresee a relationship similar to Charlie and his mother on 'Two and a Half Men'. Seriously!”
Wry laugh. Yes, I am intimately familiar with the mother/son relationship in which the son despises the mother. Dear reader, in answer to your question: My only son and I aren’t as close as Charlie and his mother were.
Beginning with this post, I am holding some things back, choosing to write them more fully in my last book, under construction. This is one of those things.
It is morning now. In the natural light, regrets are like dying flowers in a bouquet you once thought perfect. Their petals fall to the table. The water in the glass vase is green-ish. Don't get too close or you will smell it.
IF YOU'VE MISSED THE PREVIOUS POSTS--
Dying, The End Game, Part Six: A Quickie on Questions People Ask
copyright 2008-2011, www.sexyprime.typepad.com; PARTIAL reposts only permitted with link back to original article on SexyPrime.