top of page

If Your Parents Died Tomorrow, Would You Have Any Regrets?

By Dennis Rainey

This is the fifth post in a series on honoring your parents.


During the early 1980s, when I first began to speak on honoring parents, I received a letter from a student that put the issue in perspective:


Your lecture today brought to mind the importance of phone calls to parents. My mother died about one year prior to my enlistment in the Air Force. As I departed New York City bound for San Antonio, Texas, my father took a day off work to see me off on my new adventure. To my knowledge, it was the only day off work he ever took, other than at my mother's funeral, and the only time I saw him cry. 


I left with a promise that I would call him every Sunday at 2 p.m. and was faithful to that promise. One Sunday the phone rang for a long time and when Dad finally answered, I was truly concerned that something had gone wrong. Dad assured me all was well. 


He seemed to have a lot to talk about that day. He expressed his sorrow at not having been able to spend more time with me as I grew up. I assured him that I understood and all the times we did have together were memorable and meaningful. His closing words were, “I love you and I miss you.” 


Those were the last words he spoke to me. Two days later I received a phone call and the voice on the other end said, “Pops is dead.” It was later determined that Dad suffered two heart attacks, one conceivably on the day that I had called. 


I pray that you will continue to stress contact with parents. However that contact is made, it could be the last opportunity to share your heart with someone who loved you and for you to express that the love was mutual.


(signed) A student thankful for being reminded of a two-way blessing


I like that phrase, “a two-way blessing.” That's what honoring your parents is—a blessing to the parent in finally receiving thanks for what he did right and a blessing to the child who can grow old knowing no words were left unsaid.


I think about adult children who have never expressed their thankfulness to their parents.


They know their parents will die … some day.


They know they need to make an effort to honor them.


 But they procrastinate, thinking they can do it “later.”


I know how it feels to have a parent die with words unsaid. My dad died of a heart attack a few days short of his 66th birthday. I never had the chance to say goodbye. For a decade prior to his death I had sought to honor him, but I'll always regret that I never expressed it in the same way I did to Mom, with a written tribute.


No words left unsaid


I'd like to challenge you to consider two questions. The first is, Would you have any regrets if your parents died tomorrow?  That’s an uncomfortable question, isn’t it?  Yet it’s one we should confront.


I know how it is for many adults—especially those of you in your 20s, 30s, and 40s. You feel so consumed by your responsibilities at work, in your marriage, with your children, at your church.  Somehow, in the midst of a busy and hectic schedule, it's easy to leave parents in the dust. 


They'll always be there, won't they? you think.  


Once I get past that next deadline ... once we finish this vacation … once the kids grow a little older … then I'll spend some time with my parents. 


And if your relationship with your parents is difficult—if anything with your parents remains unresolved—it is even easier to shove the problem off to a corner of your mind.


Or to convince yourself, “I've done all I can do.” 


A friend of mine told me he had a good relationship with his father, but is concerned his sister did not. He asked her, “Would you have any regrets if Dad dies tomorrow? Are you content with it ending this way?  And if not, why not do something about it?”


Her response? She said she had done all she could do to reconcile with her father. But I wondered if the real problem was that she didn’t want to go through the pain and hard work of reconciliation. When her father died, would she find herself struggling with guilt that she didn't make more of an effort?


I know of another man who was motivated to honor a father that he had seen only twice since he was 10. “I didn't want to live with the regret that the last time I'd see him was standing over his casket at his funeral. I knew Christ and he didn't. My responsibility to express  love to him began to grow within me. I might be the only one in my family to share God's love and forgiveness in Christ.”


That man sought to honor his father through numerous visits. He called and wrote him regularly. Today that man has no regrets.


The second question is a tough one, Why wait for the eulogy to praise your parents?

 As wonderful as a funeral eulogy can be, I wish I could start a new tradition: Praise your parents before they die rather than afterward as you stand over their graves. We need to say it when our words will become nourishment for an old soul, when it will most encourage them. I often wonder how many eulogies are delivered with the hope their parents can somehow hear the words.


Dan told my sixth-grade Sunday school class a wonderful story about a lesson his father taught him:


I recall how, as a child, after church or Sunday school my father would take me to the cemetery.  He would take my hand and we'd walk around and I would ask him, “Daddy, what are you doing?”


He'd say, “Well, I want to go see where my mother and my father are buried.”


He would stand there and cry, and I turned to him one day and I said, “Daddy, when I get big, I'll come out and see you in the cemetery.”


He turned to me and he said something that was sobering, and it stuck with me all these years.  He said, “I don't want you to do that.” 


I said “Why?” and he said, “Well, I would rather you give flowers to the living, because when I am dead and gone and I'm out there in the cemetery, I won't be able to smell the flowers you bring me.


“So I would rather you do nice things to please me while I'm alive.”


If nothing else, my father left me a legacy of seeking to honor parents while they are alive.


If a parent already has died


I’m sure I’ve unearthed some difficult emotions for those of you who feel regret over not honoring a parent before he/she died. As I know myself, you may never be able to erase those feelings, but I can offer three suggestions:


First, allow yourself to grieve over the loss of your parent and over your failure to honor. I can still remember sitting at my dad's funeral, with deep grief, but immense pride in a man who was really the bedrock of my early years.


It wasn't until after Dad was gone that I really began to measure the man. Nearly 50 years later I continue to take measurements, and the magnitude of what he left me looms larger in my mind.


Second, make a special effort to honor the living parent as a way of honoring the one who is deceased. By praising the man my mother chose to spend her life with, I was telling her, “Not only was your husband worthy of honor, but you are worthy as well because you made such a wise choice.”


Finally, look for ways to honor your deceased parent. Consider that your children will benefit from knowing the legacy their grandfather or grandmother left them.  A tribute can be a permanent milestone for them as they begin their pilgrimage through life.

 I wrote a tribute to my father nearly 10 years after he died. I feel this not only honored him, but also brought healing to me. I have no idea whether those in heaven are able to see what happens here on earth, but I do know he would have been pleased. And I am certain of this:  God sees and He is pleased with the tribute I wrote because it honors my dad.


The only thing better would have been to give it to him in person.


Perhaps someday in heaven … I’ll have the privilege of reading it to him.


Adapted from The Forgotten Commandment, by Dennis Rainey with David Boehi. Copyright © by Dennis Rainey. All rights reserved.

Are you a Family Member of ? If not, stop missing out by clicking here.

This is too good to keep to yourself! Share with a friend or family member using the links below!


bottom of page