"The sting of regret for things we didn't do or say"

Helena's wisdom: Embrace optimism to dodge regret. Paul Connolly reflects on missed chances and the enduring legacy of the kindness of his former colleague.

Be more like Helena.

Be more like Helena.

Foto: Helena Strömbro Ershag

Engelska2024-04-08 09:00
Det här är en krönika. Åsikterna i texten är skribentens egna.

We often don't appreciate how good our lives are until something awful happens. But this harsh lesson can come with an even more bitter aftertaste - the sting of regret for things we didn't do or say when we had the chance. 

A decade ago, my girlfriend and I traded the stress of national newspaper careers in London for a quieter life in Skellefteå. (Our plans for tranquility were upended when she became pregnant with twins just four months after our move).

Many UK newsrooms are toxic environments where moderately talented but otherwise unremarkable men (it's almost ALWAYS men, and they’re almost always pipsqueaks) exploit their psychopathic lack of empathy and self-awareness to impose their gargantuan egos and skewed worldviews on others. 

They yell appalling abuse at their staff and respect nobody, least of all female journalists. I’m now rather embarrassed at having worked on UK newspapers.

Norran couldn't be more different. It's staffed by hard-working, wise, and empathetic journalists who keep their egos in check. They're always willing to provide support for one another. 

Malin Christoffersson and Helena Strömbro Ershag in the Norran newsroom.

This positive attitude starts at the top. Editors such as Malin Christoffersson and Helena Strömbro Ershag set a great example. They're always encouraging, inspiring, and empowering others. They're also two of the kindest people I've met, not just in journalism, but in life itself.

Sadly, last Sunday we lost Helena to cancer. She'd been ill for two years but, when she was well enough, had been helping me with Norran English. In a typical UK newsroom, someone like her might have tried to take over the project, citing her seniority as justification.

I'll admit, given my experiences on UK newspapers, I was at first wary of Helena's involvement.

But I had no need to worry. She believed in the Norran English project. She was always looking for ways to help and offered her expertise and guidance whenever I needed it (which was quite a lot). She was often out and about with me at Skellefteå newcomer events. She helped me hugely.

Helena was funny, brainy, kind and had fantastic taste in music.

The last time I spoke to her in the Norran office a few weeks ago she was characteristically considerate, offering tips on dinner recipes for my hard-to-please 10-year-old twins. 

I never saw her again.

And here comes the regret. Although we hadn’t known each other for long, I felt like we could have become good friends: Helena was funny, brainy, kind and had fantastic taste in music.

We also shared a love for many of the same authors, and she even suggested books for me to read to understand my new home a little better (Per Olov Enquist’s “The March of the Musicians” was one).

I also really liked her husband, Per. For at least the last six months, I kept meaning to ask them around for dinner. But, through a blend of my natural shyness and sheer complacency I never got round to it.

“There’ll be time enough when she’s better,” I thought.

Except she didn’t get better. 

Last week I translated into English Helena’s final Norran column, written a couple of weeks before her death. 

It’s a truly great piece of writing. The quiet grace and generosity of spirit that shimmered through the column left me close to tears.

She knew death was imminent, but she still focused on celebrating others rather than dwelling on her own misfortune. 

Helena's outlook was wisdom distilled. In contrast, I'm drowning in regret. 

The lesson is clear: embrace optimism. Be more like Helena, not me.

This article is a column and the opinions are the writer's own.

This column was originally published at norran.se/english, the English part of norran.se.