Releasing Regret

By Patricia Webb Last summer my husband, David McCleskey, was diagnosed with liver cancer. Forty days from his diagnosis, he made his passage. He died in the arms of our Sangha. In fact, the Sangha was sitting in our house sending David a loving kindness meditation at the moment he passed. Our Sangha and the practice gave comfort to David and to me, and the Sangha received a beautiful gift by being present. The following story is one of many in a book I’m writing about David’s dying.

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Nights were always difficult. Like a newborn baby, David awoke frequently, and his days and nights were all mixed up. He never complained, but he needed things: water, help to the commode, light on, light off, more blankets, fewer blankets. On this night, however, David was more agitated than usual. He began to kick the bedcovers off and sigh heavily.

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“What is it?” I asked.

“I’m miserable, so miserable,” he said. “Do you need something, some water?”

“Nothing, no, nothing. I’ve wasted my life, wasted too much time. My work isn’t finished. And there isn’t any way to fix that now.”

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I turned on the light. David’s face was full of grief and despair. Everything in me wanted to blurt out, “No, darling, that isn’t true. You’ve done so much with your life. You’ve had a great and wonderful life.” But a voice inside me said, “Keep still.” What to do then? I rubbed David’s shoulder. “It’s okay, okay,” I said.

He reached for my hand and squeezed it tightly, letting out a great sigh. That giant out-breath was like a message. An inner voice said, “He’s releasing. Allow it.”

Over the next several hours, David poured out mountains of regret in great sighs. His words were very few and I was not sure what exactly was being released. But I knew that each sigh, each word, held great substance and meaning for David. Our bedroom was a container for the dark and dense energy that came from my beloved’s being that night. The air was so thick that it was hard to breathe. I was not afraid of the energy itself, heavy though it was. I was afraid of the harm that might come to David if he couldn’t stop generating these terrible, agonizing regrets. I did not want my sweetheart to die with these thoughts on his mind.

Near dawn, a soft pink glow permeated the room. A presence whispered in my ear: “Patricia, everyone walks this valley of regret. You will many times; you have already done so many times. All of our work on earth is unfinished and we are unfinished and it is okay.”

I knew that David felt this presence also because he opened his eyes, smiled a very tiny smile, and said, “This is exhausting.”

“Yes it is,” I said. “But you’re letting go of a lot of bad feelings. I think everyone has regrets like this, don’t you?”

“Hmm. Maybe.” He was thoughtful for a moment. His breathing shifted, becoming more rhythmic and relaxed. We slept then until the phone rang around 8:00 a.m. Our Dharma teachers, Peggy Rowe (True Original Source) and Larry Ward (True Great Sound) were calling to check on us. I told them what had been going on. Larry asked to speak with David.

“David, how are you today? Are you getting enough rest?” He asked.

“I’m miserable,” said David. “I’ve messed it all up.” “Understood,” Larry replied. “Okay now, David. Now is an excellent time to remember your Dharma name—True Mountain of Goodness, right? David, your practice is to bring to mind, to focus on the thoughts, the words, the actions of yours that have brought goodness. There is so much to recall, David, great fields of goodness. And you know that, man. Dwell on that. And dwell, too, on the goodness that has come to you. This is the time for that, okay?”

“Got it. Right,” David said. Then Peggy came on the line. “Remember, David, how much we love you. Your Sangha, your friends, we are with you. You’re doing a great job with this journey.” David smiled.

Watching David in the moments just after that phone call was like watching a sunrise. He gently allowed his consciousness to shift, letting light come in. I saw him surrender to the force of bright, positive consciousness. As he focused on his breathing, I quietly busied myself, making ready for the day. His mood brightened slowly as he continued the beautiful work.

After a while we knew it was time to close this ritual time. With David’s blessing, I opened the bedroom door to the garden, turned on the fan, burned sage, invited our small bell, sprinkled lemon and lavender—all to help the night’s sad energy depart.

David lived several weeks after this event, yet he never again voiced a single regret. Later that day, in a moment of sweet attention so characteristic of him, he caught my eye and simply said, “You’re a good wife.”

Our spiritual names come from a well of knowing deeper than any person or group, and they bless us in times of need. On that morning, True Mountain of Goodness surrendered to the human experience of regret, released it, and embraced the boundless goodness of his being. I continue to live in gratitude that David had a Sangha and a practice that enabled his transition to be so beautiful.

mb53-Releasing4Patricia Webb, True Mountain of Action, sits with Prairie Wind Sangha of Oklahoma City. She is a writer and artist, and has been a member of the Order of Interbeing since 2005.

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