01/04/2013 04:59 pm ET Updated Mar 06, 2013

Regret Insurance

I get a call: My Aunt Lil is in the emergency room at New York Hospital. She has had an accident. What do I do?

This happened a couple of years ago. I dropped everything and went right there. It meant canceling appointments and getting coverage for a group I lead, but I knew that I needed go immediately -- more for me than her. I was protecting myself from a possible regret. If my beloved Tante did not pull through, I would wish that I had dropped everything -- my busy, important life would look sad and silly if I had not been there. She did recover fully, and even though she doesn't remember me being there that day, it was worth it.

I try to pass this concept on. A client emailed me the other day that he was on his way to Chicago to his mother's deathbed, a few days earlier than planned -- he cited "regret insurance" as the reason. He ended up holding her hand as she died, which he would have missed had he not moved up his flight.

We learn from our past: I remember not seeing a client who then died while I was in Turkey. Even a decade later I feel a slight pang. I wish I had taken the time to see him before I left. This is all selfish. I am talking about my side of the street. It might not have ever crossed his mind that I should have seen him one more time.

These days, I make the call, I go to the hospital, I write the note, just to cover my ass and take away the possible pain of regret. Regret Insurance is really for us, not the ill or injured loved one. It's a worthwhile investment in a lighter mind and heart.

In my 20 years of attending and/or leading grief groups, I have rarely if ever not heard some regret spoken of: "I wish we had gone to another doctor..." "I wish I had gone to see her one more time..." "I wish that I had told him how grateful I am for his love..." It just seems to come with the territory.

Regret insurance is not surefire, but it does take past experience and bring it into the present -- the only place it might be of use. Regret is about not knowing then what we ended up knowing later. So, when faced with a day of appointments that are hard to cancel, I can look ahead and say to myself: If you don't go now and something goes awry, you will regret it later. Ergo: Get in the cab, get on your cell and take care of yourself and, perhaps, your loved one, as well.

For more by Robert Levithan, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.