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Regrets of the Dying

My last post in 2010 was ‘What I wish I knew when I was younger’ and my first post this year was ‘Setting SMART goals.’

Six months later, I think it’s now time to assess our progress and take stock of where we are and where we want to be. Beyond the fact that mid-year is a good time to pause and think about all the wonderful goals we set in January, a couple of other factors prompted this blog. The first is a blog post my dear friend Afua (all regulars to this blog know Afua by now – my friend who sends me thought provoking links and blogs) emailed me last week – Regrets of the Dying by Bonnie Ware, a palliative care practioner who works with people who have gone home to die. I hate regrets – the thought of ever getting to some point, and regretting the life I’ve lived, what I did or didn’t do, what I said or didn’t say kills me. Maybe that’s why I am all about open communication and that’s definitely why my two favorite blogs out of all the stuff I’ve written are Dream It. Believe It. Achieve It. and You Can Do It.  

As much as I’m all for pursuing your goals and dreams, something hit me last week when I read the ‘Regrets of the Dying’ blog. It’s damn tough to stay on track. Talk is one thing for sure, but actually doing something? That’s a whole different beast. What makes actually following through on your dreams and goals even harder is if you don’t pause, re-evaluate and take stock of where you’re headed. It’s pretty easy to just keep going – to just wake up, go through the day, work or do whatever you do, end the day, and repeat the cycle. Nothing new, nothing different, nothing changes. Yet we may have lists posted on our refrigerators or in our diaries that we haven’t glanced at in months.

So, let’s have a mid-year check in, shall we? Read the piece below and I hope it motivates you to get back on track. It’d be a shame to be dying and regret everything you did or didn’t do. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Regrets of the Dying

By Bonnie Ware

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

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.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work 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.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

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.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

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

Often they would not truly realize 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.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

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

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize 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.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

[If you haven’t read my book CIRCLES yet, you can purchase it here.