Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

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Let’s talk about death again, shall we?

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, recorded the dying epiphanies of people in the last 3-12 weeks of their life.

MORE: Dealing with Death: Don’t do What I Did

In a blog called Inspiration and Chai, Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom.

“When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”

Here are the top five regrets of the dying:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

MORE: My Dad Would’ve Been 71 Today

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

MORE: Talking to Kids About Death: Lessons From Big Bird

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

MORE: Celebrating My Dad’s 16-Year Anniversary

Such powerful lessons here! Living a life of regret can cause not only stress, but disease (or dis-ease) and an unhappy existence.

When my own father was dying of ALS, I remember having some profound conversations with him about living a passion-filled life. I feel honored to have had this time with him, and I encourage you all to ‘get real’ with yourselves. Are you truly happy at work? At home? With your friendships and relationships? In the life you are living?

What’s your greatest regret so far? What would your biggest regret be if this was your last day of life?

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Filed under: Carousel,Health,Personal Development

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  1. Thanks for this Jenny, I got chills thinking about the time that goes by and I haven’t contacted old buddies who mean the world. I’m going to go make a phone call.

  2. Christine Hardy

    I don’t really understand the “working too hard” thing. I think people who are dying now lived through some of the toughest times in history. The Depression, WWII, the 70′s oil crisis, and so on. People I know now are struggling so hard to make ends meet becuase of the recession. Working means that you put food on the table and a roof over your family’s heads. To regret taking care of them doesn’t make sense. You can’t do everything, you can’t be everywhere. I think there is a lot of false guilt over not being in two places at one time.

  3. Your post, Jenny, resonated in my heart. It inspired me to continue on with my work in European Depth Graphology. Thank you for this eloquent simplicity! B.

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