Day, 2003, Korea. An email arrives, sent from my friend Conor’s account. Subject line: Sad news. Conor and I have been corresponding while he’s in hospital recovering from brain cancer surgery, and as soon as I see that subject line, I know he’s gone. The message comes from an aunt who had access to his account in case of the worst. I tell myself I’ll answer her tonight. I spend an hour crying, then join my workmates for Christmas, trying to contain my misery. I don’t reply that night, or the next, or the next. Eventually, so much time passes that it seems too late, and I never tell Conor’s family, whom I’ve never met, what he meant to me.
When I rank my regrets, this is the most serious; heeding Dr. Roese’s advice, I address it first. I write to Conor’s parents, sharing my memories of him and apologizing for the long delay.
Privately, I try to understand my past inaction, linking my experience with Conor’s death to other times my post-mortem behaviour has disappointed. I never want to lose a loved one again, but I will, and reflecting helps me realize that my reaction to death is a tendency I need to work on.
Once my letter is sent, I arrange coffee dates, place phone calls and write emails; tackling the transgressions that still feel raw, and addressing my most persistent regrets, large and small.
To my relief, I discover that most have been forgiven, forgotten, or understood. Like John before me, I’ve been hoarding troubling feelings that my so-called victims have long released.
December5,2015,Toronto. A letter, a kind and forgiving letter, arrives from Conor’s mom. She closes it by paraphrasing a poem from Thich Nhat Hanh: