For thirteen years I volunteered as a medic on a country ambulance in Australia.
Friends were often concerned about me whenever we attended a particularly bad motor vehicle accident, but I dealt with those okay. I was too busy doing what had to be done to get emotionally involved, at least most of the time.
Give me a two-car wreck and I came home and went back to the computer and carried on writing. Am I messed up? Don’t think so. I’d done my job best as I was able, and the rest was up to God.
No, what threw me were the old folk making their last trip.
Because then it wasn’t t about God or Fate or Luck like the outcome of a trauma. These people made me think about the choices we all make in our life.
There was nothing much to be done clinically on those jobs so I rode in the back and we talked. Some folk were quiet; others welcomed the opportunity to share their stories.
Sometimes I asked them if they had any regrets. Without exception the things they said they regretted were the things they didn’t do, the chances they didn’t take.
In a way I wasn’t a medic on those days as much as a priest; the least qualified bloke in the world to hear anyone’s last confession, believe me.
The three things I remember most was:
‘I always wanted to be a singer. My sisters said I had a good voice. But my Dad said no, and then I met Jack and that was that. I wonder how it would have turned out if I’d just run off to Sydney like my friend Sandra. She had a great life, did Sandra.’
This lady broke my heart. She had been a good wife and a good mother; a thoroughly good person. But she had a dream once and she hadn’t followed it, and that was what haunted her in her last days. Seems to me that’s how it is with most people. It’s the things you didn’t do that haunt you.
‘I wish I’d spent more time with my kids.’
This guy had worked hard all his life, was highly respected in the community, he’d been a good provider and generally a good bloke. But he said his kids might have turned out better if he hadn’t been away working so much. Now all they seemed to care about was who was going to get what. Cat’s in the Cradle all over again.
He talked for the whole twenty minute ride to the hospital. I hope listening helped because there was nothing I could think of to say.
‘I wish I hadn’t shot myself in the foot so many times.’
He didn’t mean it literally. (Though we did have one guy who accidentally shot himself with a nail gun.)
No, this fella is the one I’ve thought about a lot lately, though at the time I didn’t quite get it. Let’s call him Michael. Michael told me that every time someone got close to him he found a way to keep them at a bit of a distance; his wife, his kids, his friends. Yet he was a lovely man.
Ten years to the day since I did my last job, so I have been thinking about these three folk. And about regret.
Especially about Michael.
I have followed my dreams best I could – I still do. And I spent a lot of time with my kids.
But for me there is this one regret I have to turn around, for I know there have been too many times in my life when I have pushed away those closest to me. It hit me the other day when I had a fight with my daughter over some stupid thing.
Because I create a lot of these situations. I sometimes panic when someone gets too close. It’s time to stop.
I don’t want Michael to have wasted one of his few last breaths giving me advice I didn’t eventually listen to.
So I wrote this post to give anyone who happens by the chance to consider what they might think about themselves if this was their last day on earth. And if there’s one thing working on an ambulance taught me – you never know when that day is.
Spare a thought for what regrets you might have at the end – and, what is much more important, can you change that now, while there’s still time?
This old song never fails to move me: It’s Piaf, in some pokey Paris club in 1961.
The story begins in the Dirty War in Argentine when members of the death squads killed opponents of the hard line junta – but then raised their children as their own.
But what happens when one of these children grows up and discovers the truth?
You can see more about DISAPPEARED here on Slideshare.
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