The Greatest Mistake Of My Life

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A few weeks ago I ran across a news story about an Australian nurse who recorded the most common regrets expressed by people who were nearing the end of their lives. As I read the article I was not surprised to find that the greatest regret of my life was one of the top five.

So that you won’t spend the rest of your life wondering what the other four were, here they are:

  1. I wish I had lived a life true to myself, not the life others expected.

  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

  3. I wish I had let myself be happier.

  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

I have had no problems with 1, 2 or 3. For better or worse I’ve always just been myself. As for No. 2, I love work if it’s worth doing, and I’ve never let myself do anything that wasn’t. No. 3? For some odd reason I seem to have come out of the chute with a smile on my face — and it has been there ever since.

So, 1, 2 and 3? A snap! But 4? 

Back in 1995 I was talking to a good friend named Rick Conze — gone now, God bless him. I was telling Rick how much a friend of mine named Richie Shellman had meant to me when I was a teen. We were inseparable, Richie and I — very different, but linked by some inner spirit. I was telling Rick that many things, which are a part of me, are due to the fact that I knew Richie.

Rick looked at me and asked a question that floored me.

“Did you ever tell him that?”

What a question!

I hadn’t seen or heard from Richie in 40 years, but at that moment, with Rick’s question still echoing in my ears, I knew I was going to change that! I bought a two CD set of every phone number in the country and began looking up names. It took a long time, but I found 16 people I hadn’t seen or heard from for a long time, some for as long as five decades. 

Well, that took care of No. 4, and while I was at it I took care of the last number on the list too:

  1. I wish I had told people how much I thought of them.

Yes, you better believe it, Johnny! I made up for lost time. Those 16 people found out in a rush how great I thought they were. I got a lot of surprises along the way, though. One of them was that my old buddy, Richie Shellman, who was studying pharmacy the last thing I knew, was now The Reverend Richard Shellman, Catholic priest.

I can’t say I don’t understand why I had never told some people how much I thought of them. I do understand it — at least as well as any of us ever really understand anything we do. Not only that, I’ll make you a bet: If you are guilty as I once was of not telling people how much you think of them, I’ll bet it’s for the same reason I didn’t.

When we feel that someone is really great, we feel we don’t have to say it; we think he or she knows it. I thought those things. I felt them. I’m sure I must have shown them. I just never said them.

Of course, I have made — and still do make — a BIG exception for my beloved wife, Lolly. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve told her how much I love her and how wonderful she is, you and I could go get soused for six months.

But you know the bad part, Johnny? 

For a lot of very important folks it was already too late when I finally got the message in 1995. Therefore ... (Can you guess?)

I look forward to dying. In fact, I can hardly wait.

Provided I make the final cut, I hope that Saint Peter stays out of the way because I’m coming up that ramp fast, headed straight for Mom, and I am going to say, “Mom, there’s a little something I forgot to say ...”

Going to be fun dying.

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