Living Life Without Regrets

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Zavala and her mother.
Zavala and her mother.

It is a beautiful day outside. I am so grateful for how we get to enjoy such amazing weather, and yes it is the middle of winter. Yet, I sit here staring out the window, wondering what is ahead.

My mom passed this last week, and I am still trying to get my feet back on the ground.  There is something about the passing of a parent that takes you to the core of who you are. It is like driving down the road at 65 miles an hour, thinking you are heading in one direction, only to find it is a dead end and what now?

It also makes you question your life path and relationships, leaving you to reflect and re-evaluate your life purpose. It also leaves you without that parent, or your role as a child to that parent.

I want to share a story about my mom. My mom moved here to California about 15 years ago. Part of it was to be closer to my daughter and I, but the trigger was the end of a relationship she had back in New Zealand, where we are from.

It was a good relationship, and both cared about each other, but my mom wanted to get married while her partner wanted to just live together. It led to them separating as both wanted their way.

I do respect that–we should not give in to what we value as important. However, we need to make sure we have no regrets.

When I realized my mom was dying, I was able to get her home to spend the last part of her life with her family. While she was in the hospital her ex-partner came to visit. He shared that he regretted not trying to work things out, and how they had made an amazing couple and he had not stopped caring for her.

My mom with her sense of humor, responded, “Don’t tell me you have come here to propose to me finally.”

But sadly, it was too late for them to give it another try, as she passed a week later.

I don’t want to have regrets. To do so, you need to be willing to live life fully, and that means being honest with yourself, and being vulnerable with others knowing you could fail and get rejected.

I remember one day I had a client in his 70’s sit in my office–a stoic man, one of little emotion typically. However, this day, he was sobbing from the core of his being. He had been struggling with depression, and with some exploration he realized this had stemmed from the fact he had too many regrets and now, at 72, he was unable to go back and mend most of them.

Around 65 years of age, we reach the developmental stage called Integrity vs. Despair.  What I find is people who have lived their life with congruency of who they are, been authentic and pursued their goals, live this part of their life feeling content. However, people who have not repaired broken relationships, not tried to reach their goals and not been honest with themselves, have regrets and end up feeling despair.

As my mom suffered from ALS the last two years of her life, she was unable to do anything for herself. She was only 68. But what I know for sure: she lived life. She biked across Europe, travelled the world, ran (or walked) marathons, hiked the national parks, and moved across the world never losing her sense of humor. My mom was not perfect, but she was never afraid to take a risk.

The lessons my mom left me with: we never know when it is our turn. Do not be afraid to tell people how you feel about them, even though they may reject you. Do not be afraid to try something you have always wanted to try, even though you may not be successful at it.

Do not be afraid. Live life. Because how you live life will also depend on how those around you will decide how to be in the world.

Dr. Shelly Zavala can be contacted at [email protected] or

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