Lessons from Regret: The Time is Now


“Sometimes the wrong choices bring us to the right places.” ~Unknown

“Six weeks ago the doctors told me he had six weeks to live. I don’t think he is going to survive the night.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?” I whimpered, my voice barely above a whisper. ‘We don’t have any time left.”

I didn’t think that as a 19 year old, seeing my father die in a hospital was going to be something I would experience. Wasn’t he meant to grow old and grey, with me taking care of him?

Nevertheless, in the early hours of the following morning, when the rest of the world was lying in a quiet slumber, I was sat at my dad’s bedside, holding his hand while it slowly grew cold. I wasn’t willing to let go, as letting go would mean accepting what was. I wasn’t ready for that.

My dad and I had always had such a difficult relationship. I was the rebel teenager and he was the frustrated father who just never knew what to do with me. In the end, when the cancer had really taken over, he just gave up. He knew I wouldn’t be his problem for much longer.

As the weeks and months passed, it became easier to be without him. But the one thing that followed me was the regret I felt—of not trying to understand him, and not making our relationship better.

The older I get, the more I realize that that period of life was meant to teach me some tough lessons—lessons that have stayed with me to this day.

If you want to say something, say it.

Don’t wait for a good time. Life is beautiful and cruel in that it doesn’t tell you when your last day on earth will be.

Acting with some tact, however, is best (telling someone that their words hurt you when they’ve just sliced off their finger instead of a carrot is, perhaps, not the best time) but waiting and waiting and waiting for the right time to come is exhausting. And false.

If you still think now’s a bad time to say it, then why don’t you…

Think in regrets.

If I don’t do this now, will I regret it tomorrow?

Tomorrow can be literally tomorrow, next month, or a few years down the line. Contemplating the consequences of an action not taken is all the motivation you need.

And if you still haven’t said what you wanted to say, then…

Forgive yourself.

I was too young at the time to realize that I had growing up to do. Looking back on my teenage years, I regretted every day that I didn’t just talk to my dad. Instead, I just scurried away, avoiding confrontation.

We hold on to so much of what we did as children, and think we could have done better. But looking at something with the eyes of someone experienced and judging it is not fair. We do not remain the same people we were when we become adults.

Forgive yourself. For the regrets. For the inaction. For the words not spoken. Forgive yourself.

Revisit the past.

A couple of years after I lost my dad, I was in the changing room of the gym when I got talking to a woman I’d never seen there before. She asked me how I was, and I decided to be completely honest with her.

I told her I was feeling weighed down with regret. I’d had a tumultuous relationship with my dad and I hadn’t made the time to rectify it before he died. There were so many things I wanted to say, to apologize for, and to understand about him. There was so much I should have said but hadn’t.

She told me that I could still do that.

The mind is a powerful thing, influenced by fabrications, as well as real events. She told me to find someone I trusted, and talk to them like they were my dad. Be brutally honest. Say everything. It took me another year of thinking about it before finally having that conversation.

It was the most liberating thing I have ever done.

What regrets have you experienced, and what have you learned from them?

Photo by snapper sun

About Razwana Wahid

Razwana Wahid is the bold, mouthy and boundary pushing founder of reGENERATION, where she explores the East/West identity conflict and gets gutsy about reconciling those two worlds. Caution: Strong opinions imminent.

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  • Fiona C

    Razwana thank you for your post. It bought tears to my eyes. Last year I was with my own 19 year old son as his own father (my ex husband) lived the last few months of his life. He too died of cancer and the last 3 weeks were harrowing. Despite losing my own dad at 21 years old and surviving, my instinct was to wrap my son in cotton wool and protect him from the sometimes pain of life. I carry my own pain too for his dad despite us both being remarried we were friends and I loved him. You are so right in the words you say, we shouldn’t ever hesitate to right things with the people we love and to tell them often we love them. I had the chance with my ex to say sorry for some of the things that had gone wrong between us over the years and to tell him I loved him. After his death his new wife told me he had told her what I had said and it had helped him and he appreciated me saying those things. I was fortunate to have that chance. But it has made me realise we shouldn’t waste energy and time falling out with those who are part of our hearts. Life is too precious.
    Take care and thank you again

  • Joan Harrison

    Thanks for the thought provoking post Razwana.
    Grief is such a difficult emotion to understand until you have come through the other side, then look back and see how important the process is.
    I lost my Mom when I was 18 and pregnant and because I did not allow myself to grieve, the process took me far too long. I held onto regrets and misunderstandings, when it would have been healthier to let them go.
    I learned from that first major loss and know now to communicate at important times, as a result of that first terrible experience. So I suppose all was not wasted, however harrowing it may have been.

  • Razwana

    Hi Joan – thank you so much for your comment. Grief is indeed a process and it is unfortunate that we must go through something like this before we learn what communicate how we wish to.

    I read your comment and I think to myself ‘how on earth did she get through that? Pregnant as well as losing her mother?’ Such strength. Hats off to you …

  • Razwana

    Hi Fiona. The bigger picture is not always easy to see – it takes consistent effort, right?

  • “looking at something with the eyes of someone experienced and judging it is not fair. We do not remain the same people we were when we become adults”

    Amen to that! Hope to always be growing better than yesterday! Thanks for sharing

  • Razwana

    Thank you for your comment! Wishing you a wonderful day

  • Wow Razwana – this is straight up real talk.

    This really struck a cord with me. Maybe it’s your honesty, your heart, or something that goes beyond my understanding. I guess the reason why it struck a cord isn’t that relevant. All that matters is that it did.

    I have not seen such a positive light on using regrets to ignite action. There is something so deep and precious about life – yet, we all are capable of becoming completely blind to this at any time.

    I am very sorry about your father – I cannot imagine going through that type of experience at any age.

  • Thanks for writing this honest post Razwana about regret and how you came to terms with your father’s passing.

    I think thinking in regrets will naturally allow us to confront future regrets head on. If I’m regretting it now, of course I’m going to regret it tomorrow. The more reasons we give ourselves to avoid regret later will allow us to take the difficult or challenging action in our life now.

    I think forgiving ourselves is also important when we do have something we regret.. We are not all knowing and all wise. We are human and make mistakes. If we do something regretful, let’s forgive ourselves first. Yes, we messed up but we can move on – we can avoid the same mistake in the future, say sorry more, say we messed up.

    I think your message of confronting and facing regret head on is more powerful than living a life of should have’s, could have’s and would have’s. I think living in the present moment is also one way of dealing with regrets. If we live for the moment, we won’t be preoccupied about the things we didn’t do.

  • Razwana

    I really love this message, Vishnu – of living in the moment and not being preoccupied with thoughts of the past – or regrets.

    I wrote this post because the constant message of ‘no regrets’ just didn’t ever resonate with me. It’s ok to have regrets – and it’s even better to learn from them.

    Thank you for your insight.

  • Razwana

    I couldn’t imagine it at the time either, Izzy – but that’s the thing about life. It moves time on and suddenly what was a nightmare becomes something to learn from.

    Nothing like some real talk to wake us up, right Izzy? 🙂

  • Karisa

    The say it now really hit home for me. I often wait for a right time to say something because I think that’s the only time it will have a real impact, and then sometimes I don’t get a chance to say it at all. Im so glad I read this article today, because it reminded me that I am ready to move on from my regrets. Thank you!

  • Razwana

    Karisa – it is so great to read your comment today. Sometimes it’s just a case of biting the bullet and going for it – waiting won’t serve you. All the best, and thank you for your comment !

  • Mak

    Please help me! i am 25 and 3 years back i had made a mistake of not proposing a girl, while she was trying for me. I said to myself i had to stand up for my work first and then other things. but deep inside my heart i like her.. I just let her go in front of me because of the family reasons and financial reasons. Now i regret for her. i miss her. but its too long as she got married now..
    What i should do to move on and hope for a new person in my life.

  • Razwana

    Hello Mak.It looks like you have answered your own question – you already have the intention of someone new in your life – so it looks like you are ready to move on.

    The biggest thing to do is, instead of regretting what you didn’t do, considering what you can do.

    So tell me – what CAN you do to find someone new in your life?

  • ANNA

    Hi there, I have lots of regrets in life! I have always been self-centered, always accusing people for my failures, unforgiving, manipulative,rude, and proud. I am ashamed of myself!I just want to live that way anymore! I caused a lot of pain to a lot of people. I didn’t know any better! I am just tired of that kind of living and change my ways! I just want to be forgiving, loving and stop living the me life! help other people! don’t know how to start from the scratch! please help!

  • Now that you have made the decision – how will you behave like this?

    Looking at the past will hurt you if you judge yourself with your own eyes. Use that experience to improve.

    Analyse your past behaviour, notice how you behaved, and then decide on how you will behave differently in order to be more forgiving, loving, etc.

    One way to start changing your behaviour is taking each situation as it comes.