It’s Not Too Late to Apologize
It’s Not Too Late to Apologize
Leaving conflicts unresolved can lead to regret.
Imagine a dear friend who was like family. You traveled together, supported each other, celebrated milestones, made speeches at each other’s wedding. Imagine that sometime over the years, the relationship changed. Responsibilities, diverging paths, and misunderstandings caused you to grow apart. Egos got charged and possibly jealousy, insecurity, fear, or anger manifested from the inability to understand the other or openly express emotions.
Years went by with uncomfortable family gatherings and brief and awkward conversations. As the silence grew, the reason for separation became more obscure. You questioned if the misunderstanding really warranted the end of a friendship. Then one fateful day, your friend unexpectedly passed away.
Am I sharing a fictional story to make a point? Unfortunately, this a real story about two friends, of which my husband was one.
We’ve all heard lofty statements like “cherish each moment,” but the reality is we don’t truly understand the fragility of life until we are personally affected by death. When friendships drift apart and someone passes away, we are left not only with grief, but also with regret for lost time, and the question: Regardless of how much time had passed, was it really too late to apologize?
We are told it takes courage to cut toxic and energy-draining people out of our lives in order to protect ourselves. Certainly that is valid in cases of abuse or betrayal, but applying this rationale to misunderstandings in friendships seems extreme. Even if you no longer energetically jive with a friend, it may not always be the most courageous thing to completely eliminate someone from your life.
As science writer Robin Marantz Henig notes in Psychology Today, regret is a “bitter emotion, so painful that the urge to avoid it can be the reason to forestall any kind of commitment.” In The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware describes what elderly dying patients regretted most as they looked back on their lives. Two of their biggest regrets were:
- Not expressing your true feelings.
- Not having the courage to let others know how you feel often leads to bitterness, resentment, and regret.
- Losing touch with friends.
There are deep regrets for not giving friendships the effort they deserved. “Everyone misses their friends when they are dying,” Ware writes. At the end, we realize income and achievements are worth nothing if we don’t have great friends by our side.
When trying to reconcile a friendship, death can put things in perspective. Is the regret of not openly sharing your emotions or the fear of your apology being rejected more important than your relationship?
My experience helped me learn these three powerful lessons:
1. Allow space for friendships to evolve.
Misunderstandings can happen when friends are no longer on the same wavelength. We must find compassion and understanding when others are going through a hard time and remain grounded in positivity and committed to reflecting that upon them. On the other hand, we must humbly admit when we are in a negative space and take responsibility for the impact we have on others. As we mature, we naturally grow and evolve, which means that our friendships must also adapt.
2. Always be on cordial speaking terms.
If you value the friendship, don’t let a conflict go on for more than a short period of time and don’t say anything that will make you feel awkward in the other personva presence. Relationships are ruined when misunderstandings are not addressed and too much time has gone by. Honor friendships by having the courage to vulnerably speak your truth in a kind, respectful, and constructive manner. Even if space is required, always be on cordial speaking terms.
3. Conflicts are an opportunity for inner growth.
Conflicts are a natural part of life, but the emotions that result from those conflicts can reveal the need for an internal shift. People can’t hurt us unless our ego gives them permission to hurt us. Friendships are soul relationships brought into our lives for healing and growth. Use conflicts as an opportunity to look within to see where you have yet to awaken, rather than focus on the mistakes of others and how they need to change.
Wondering how this particular story of friendship ended? Ten days before his open-heart surgery, our friend reached out, with the sole intention of moving forward. Without hesitation, everyone involved resolved to start fresh. In those ten days, he and his family came to our house for a family gathering, and we went to his home while he was recovering from surgery. Though it was different from the past, it was perfect. Less than 24 hours after that gathering, our friend passed away. We were grateful our souls had an opportunity to express our grand capacity for love and forgiveness.
Life is short. There is no time to leave important words unsaid. In the end, we only regret the chances that we didn’t take, the love we didn’t give, and the conflicts we didn’t resolve. The past doesn’t define your relationship today. No matter how much time has gone by, it’s never too late to apologize. By: Tejal Patel