If we could learn one lesson from the dying, it would probably teach us what we should be focused on during our lifetime in order to leave this world without regret. And according to a recent report in The Guardian, an Australian nurse who worked for several years in palliative care, recorded the insights of dying patients in her blog for the benefit of the living. Her focus was on regrets and many patients in their last weeks of life echoed several recurrent themes.
Bronnie Ware’s blog, Inspiration and Chai, is a collection of thoughts about life and regret spoken by patients who knew their death was imminent. The regrets they shared with Ware, who recently compiled her blog posts into a book; The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, offers some sage advice for the living.
The leading regret expressed by the dying was that they didn’t live the life they wished for, that they settled for fulfilling the expectations of others and didn’t take risks to be true to themselves and fulfill their dreams and ambitions.
Men in particular frequently said they wished that they hadn’t worked so much, missing out on so many experiences because of the daily grind. Older men, with a deep sense of responsibility to provide for their family, often stayed in secure jobs that left them unhappy for fear of losing their family’s security and stability.
Not being true to one’s self; stifling strong feelings in order to get along with others and not ruffle any feathers also emerged as a leading regret among dying patients. Not living an authentic life can create bitterness and resentment that can have negative effects on both mental and physical health.
Many of the people interviewed by Ware also said they regretting letting valued friendship slip away. They wished they had made the effort to keep in touch with friends who enriched their lives and now with very little time left, could no longer reconnect with dear friends.
The fifth top regret the dying voiced was that they didn’t allow themselves to be truly happy, fearing change. Being happy, many palliative care patients realized too late, is a choice. Being content to stay stuck in a rut, as comfortable as it might be, can lead to regret if it doesn’t bring joy.
The common theme running through all these dialogues with dying patients is that to experience a meaningful and happy life, you have to be true to yourself and take chances. If you are reading this and are lucky enough to have reasonably good health, take a moment to think about what your dreams and hopes once were; what are your most valued relationships and seize the day! Cultivate a life that leaves you with few regrets, it’s not too late.