trees at sunset

How to avoid living with regret

Zoe Weil wrote this post for Psychology Today, which we’re sharing with you today. We hope that you have a safe and healthy new year.

photo: Zoe Weil

When I was twenty-three, my beloved father died of cancer. He had battled the disease for five years. My friends knew of my dad’s cancer, but I turned to very few of them for support. That’s largely because his cancer, coupled with my fear and sorrow, seemed to make many people uncomfortable. We were all young, too young to know how best to cope.

My friend, Tom, however, kept offering me wise and helpful counsel. He was never afraid to confront the reality of my dad’s prognosis, even when I was. Nor did he shy away from saying hard things that needed saying. When I was accepted to several law schools and wanted to go to UCLA, he gently, but firmly said, “You can’t go there.” He told me that California was too far from my father, who lived in New York. That was a year before my dad died.

Tom knew what I would not let myself consider: my father’s cancer was catching up with him, chemo wasn’t working, and there were only so many months that surgeries to remove the spreading and growing tumors would prolong his life. Tom understood that I would want to be with my dad during his final months. He was right of course.

When my father was in the process of dying, Tom also didn’t shy away from my tears. He was fully there for me and offered me a nugget of wisdom that has been so influential and important in my life ever since. He said that I was going through something my friends had yet to experience – the awful loss of a parent to a gruesome disease – and that because of this loss I would be able to be there for others when it was their turn to experience grief. I took these words to heart. I have been committed to living by them for more than thirty-five years.

Two decades ago, a friend’s son committed suicide. His body was found by his sister who was in her early twenties. As I tried to support the family, I passed along Tom’s words to this distraught, grieving young woman.