We nodded and said, “Hello.” He went back to his family and I went back to mine. That was the last I saw of him And ever after, I wish I’d said more.
Will and I were both sophomores in high school. Our dads had been business partners and even though Will and I were in separate school districts, we spent a fair amount of time together due to our father’s partnerships. But things fell apart for Will and his family. His dad left the family for another woman, got out of the business partnership, and began drinking heavily. Will and I rarely saw each other after that.
But then, we had the chance meeting at a family park. “Hi.” “Hello.” A smile, a nod. And a week later Will was gone. He was riding on a motorcycle with his dad when they sideswiped a vehicle and Will lost his life.
I can’t think of Will without remembering our last encounter and wishing I’d said more. “Will, I’m sorry for what has gone on in your family, I know it must be hard.” “Call sometime and let’s chat.” Anything. Anything. Just to let him know I cared and valued the friendship we had enjoyed in better times.
Business meetings, chance encounters, and class discussions provide opportunities for us to look back on and think of what we wish we had said. One more sentence might have successfully closed the deal; a few more words might have turned a chance encounter into a budding or even reinvigorated friendship; sharing one more detail in class might have earned the A. We’ll never know.
Friends sometimes tell me of conversational regrets they have, and one of them is frequently, “I wish I’d said.” Often it has to do with a discussion they were having with a parent, child, or even their spouse. It is sad to hear, “I wish I told her I loved her more. Maybe she’d still be around.”
There is only one thing I can suggest to rectify the “Wish I’d Said” syndrome: go back and say it. Unless a situation is so strained that it is inappropriate to go approach the other person (such as after a break up), what’s wrong with giving someone a call and saying, “There’s something I wish I’d said the last time we talked, so I’d like to say it now. Thank you. Or, your friendship has meant a lot to me. Or, you helped me at a critical time in my life. Or, you have done a lot of good in peoples’ lives, and I’m one of them. I appreciate it.”
One of the crucial “I wish I’d said” areas is that of marriage. Husbands and wives withhold saying important things to each other for fear of hurting the other’s feelings. One of the partners may have a habit that is very grating, even offensive to the spouse, but the offended party won’t say anything out of concern for the other’s feelings. That is admirable, but it is also problematic. If you can grow accustomed to the offending practice, and learn to live with it, fine. But if you can’t, it is better to deal with it frankly within the first year or two of marriage then twenty-five years later when it and other problems have the marriage on the breaking point. Honesty and gentleness in communication early on can keep many irritants from becoming explosive problems. But if you waited, and the offending problem is still an issue, don’t dismiss it with, “I wish I’d said.” Say it now, kindly and honestly.
Photo compliments of Amy Free Photography
Willard F. Harley writes about a husband who held onto his “I wish I’d said” for decades. Finally, on their fiftieth wedding anniversary, the husband gave his wife a caustic note about her behavior. He wrote out of anger and frustration and it hurt her. But she loved her husband, addressed the issue, and together they experienced exciting new romance and refreshment (Love Busters, 165-7). How much better it would have been to have shared his feelings in his twenties or thirties instead of waiting until his seventies, so they could have enjoyed an even greater level of companionship for all those years. Perhaps he feared rejection as much as he feared hurting his wife’s feelings. But, at least he got over the “Wish I’d Said,” syndrome and finally opened up his heart.
Maybe your "I wish I’d said" issue is not one of sharing a painful issue between you and your spouse. It may be you wish you’d expressed appreciation for something your husband or wife did. You may regret not expressing the depth of your love and commitment. Why did you hold back? Was it hard to open up? Were you afraid you would become too emotional? Did you fear rejection? Whatever the cause, the fact that you are now reliving the conversation and yearning for another opportunity to express yourself means it is time to sit down with the one you love and say, "Let’s talk."
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