REVERSE "What Ifs?"

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.”
~ John Greenleaf Whittier, Maud Muller - Pamphlet


It's typical for grieving people to be filled with "What Ifs"... also known as "wudda, cudda, shuddas." E.g., "If only I had done this or that, it might have made a difference." This is actually a kind of magical thinking. It seems to emanate from an irrational belief we have or had the "power" to prevent or change what happened in the past.

Wishes and regrets that can never be fully resolved can be quite painful. I know this, as I have many of them.

I have already made a list of the things I don't regret, which was very helpful for me. I decided it might also help to make a list of "reverse" what's ifs. I figure if I can drive myself crazy thinking about what I didn't do right, or the things that didn't turn out the way I wanted them to, why not consider the opposites?

This exercise is kind of like imagining "revisionist history." Some historians play these games, pondering different outcomes such as "what if the Nazi's had won World War would our world be different today?"

Here are some of my reverse what ifs...

  • What if I had never met Doug?
  • What if we had never gotten married?
  • What if I had been even more selfish, and denied him the things he loved, like climbing?
  • What if he was my entire life, and I had no interests, friends, or way to earn money? Then I would really be in trouble.
  • What if I had not made time with him a priority, leaving my long distance job to be home with him, skipping night meetings, turning down work that involved extensive travel, etc., resultin in even less time with him?
  • What if losses earlier in my life had not made me realize how precious our time together was?
  • What if we had not gone on a date a week, or had so many adventures together?
  • What if I had not forced him to go to the doctor when he was initially having breathing problems in the fall after he started taking Benicar. Or when he fainted back in March? (Unfortunately the cause was apparently misdiagnosed anyway, or the proper tests were not done, based on what we know now.)
  • What if I had been away from home on travel when he passed away?
  • What if he had collapsed at home and I was unable to revive him? How would I live with the guilt?
  • What if Doug had made it a couple hundred more yards, and died underneath the bridge or in the woods, in a less well-travelled area where he might not have been found for hours or even days?
  • What if he HAD been revived and suffered brain damage? Or was disabled and miserable, and unable to enjoy life?
  • What if he never knew how much I loved and appreciated him?
  • What if I had died first, left him alone and he was the one to suffer?

The "what ifs" will be different for each person, but I think this is a useful exercise. It helps put things in perspective.

These what ifs are probably no less valid than the others I have been tormenting myself with.

I'm definitely not saying I will ever be happy or content with what happened! No scenario could compare with Doug living a healthy life. All I can hope for is that someday I will:

  • accept that I had no real power to change the outcome
  • recognize that many alternative outcomes could have been even worse, and
  • be able to carry on, and live my life in a way that would have made Doug happy and proud.


All the things get done and you regret them and then you accept them because there's nothing else to do. Regret doesn't budget things; it seems crazy that the force of all that human want can't amend a moment, can't budge a pebble.
~ Darin Strauss, Half a Life: A Memoir




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