Monday, March 14, 2016

Top Regret of the Dying - Failing to Live a Life True to One's Self

One of the catalysts to my decision to come out after more than two decades of marriage to a woman was the loss of my sister in April, 2001, after a truly heroic battle against cancer.  She was a remarkable person and all too often, in my view, put her own life an hold in order to meet the expectations of others.  Sadly, it was only in her last years that she seemed to be finally coming into her own only to have her life cut short.  Her death was frightening to me for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the nightmare quality for my family.  In addition, for me, there was the recognition that I was living my life much as she had done: living to meet the expectations of others and societal stereotypes.   I was suddenly faced with the reality that, if I did not do something, I would never really live my life authentically and not as an actor on a stage.  In the aftermath of my coming out to key family members thereafter and with the encouragement of my therapist, I launched this blog as I struggled to survive my coming out journey, my subsequent firing from a large Virginia Beach based law firm for being gay, and the resulting financial and emotional nightmare.  Was it worth it?  Most definitely, although admittedly, at times I questioned if this was true.  Recently, a piece in UpLift looks at the regrets of those faced with impending death.  Here are excerpts:
For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honor at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
Reading this article made me think of many friends who have continued to live in the closet, putting their lives on hold until parents or other family members have passed away.  The problem is than none of us know how much time we may be allotted.  My sister, while straight,is but example of one who put her life on hold in some ways only to find out too late that her time was very limited. Parents will pass on and we find ourselves left alone. Why throw away your future to satisfy others who do not want to have to rethink their views or let go of their prejudices? To all readers in the closet and struggling to decide what to do, ask yourself  if you want to have regrets like those noted above.  

For myself, I know first hand that being who you really are and throwing aside self-hate and self-loathing (most religious and societal based) is truly liberating and makes every single day of one's life so much more fulfilling. .   


Candide said...

Married 15 years, two kids, college professor. Miserable. And making others miserable, too. It is an all too common problem. I left my wife, although continued to live near her and my kids here in North Carolina. Ex-wife remarried and has a happy relationship. The kids grew up to be very successful adults with top positions in international corporations. Five lovely grandkids. Two years ago I married a man 14 years my junior. We had been together 23 years. Those years flew by as we traveled the world, worked together and enjoyed our lives. My life is now a dream come true. We ARE entitled to be happy. It may not always have a happy ending. It did for me. Sounds like it did for you, too.

Michael-in-Norfolk said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. You and I are proof that one can come out in mid-life and find happiness. My husband and I have a great relationship with my kids - and now grandchildren. My wife has remarried and were are finding a way to forget past bitterness and to be supportive to our children and their families. I hope your happiness continues.

Candide said...

One thing I will add. People are generally pretty understanding of divorce among straight people. It happens all the time, and friends and neighbors will respond with statements like, "They weren't compatible," or "Things just didn't work out." However, when a gay man divorces a woman, the reaction you often get is, "The SOB lied to her and to himself." "He was a fraud who cheated his wife out of her chance at happiness." The gay person is invariably treated as someone who intentionally ruined the lives of his wife and children.

And, of course, this is totally untrue. When I married my wife, she was my best friend. I was able to have intercourse, obviously, even though I did realize I was attracted physically to men. But in my mind, at that time, I was thinking, "We have a chance here to have a happy life together." There was no effort to deceive. I even told my wife that I had had gay relations, but that I had "put that behind me." Self deception, perhaps, but not intentional.

Gay people can be cruel to gay men who try to come out later in life. Witness the treatment of the governor of New Jersey. I would remind them: if you believe that people can actually be bisexual, why can't you cut people slack who get involved in a relationship, and it JUST DOESN'T WORK? Why can't you acknowledge that they make the same bad choices straight people who have divorces make, and are no more villains in relationships than any other man that leaves his wife or woman who leaves her husband.

I suffered a lot of angst over the years before I forgave myself for the separation. I think forgiving myself was the hardest part of the process of coming out. And today, I realize that I didn't deserve to have to go through all of that.

Michael, thanks for your blog. It is helpful and very smart.