Regrets of the Dying
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 realise, until they no longer have it.
I am blessed to have not been told I have “x” amount of time to live. But I try to live as if I have. I do try to live in the moment striving to have no regrets. If this were my last day on the planet, I know I have done my best and I cannot think of any unresolved issues nor regrets that need tending to.
Ok, I could update my will and trust, but it actually is “good enough” as they are written. I could clean up my paper trail, making sure that passwords and accounts are readily available for my loved ones. I could get rid of a lot of my shit so that my family doesn’t have to encounter the mountains of possessions I’ve accumulated.
But this is more than that. This is about being true to yourself. This I did not learn until crawling out of the depths of my addictions. And when I was given the opportunity for a new life, I ran with it. This gift was given me by Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps are my toolbox for living a sensible and meaningful life today.
So living a life true to myself is a fabulous blessing. By working the Steps with a trusted sponsor I found how fear-based I was living. I was trying to live the life I thought others expected of me. I was more concerned about getting your approval than my own self-worth and self-love as I wasn’t aware of what that was.
As I peeled away the layers of the onion skin eventually revealing the real me and learned to accept and love the real me, everything changed. Everything got easier, lighter, freer. I found happiness and contentment. I found purpose. I found compassion and empathy. I found ME!
Yes, I still do for you today but not because I need your approval to validate myself. I do it because I want to and it gives my heart joy. And today I get to be the person I was meant to be, allowing the inner child to play and run free. I get to be the responsible me, making sure commitments are being fulfilled and doing my best to help others and the planet.
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.
For as long as I can remember I heard and learned how important it is to have more, and to do whatever it takes to get more. So if that means sacrificing relationships, so be it. If that means no date nights with your mate, oh well. If that means missing your kids’ special events, there will be others. If that means putting yourself at the bottom of the list, someday you will take care of yourself.
Does more money, more power, more stuff, serve us? Hell, no. We learn as we age that less is better, not more. Finding peace and contentment with the simplest of needs frees us to enjoy what is really important…life itself and the relationships we were meant to have with each other and this wonderful planet on which we live. So not being a slave to expensive, non-meaningful possessions is what we should be striving toward. Basic needs, yes. Comparing yourself to the Joneses, no. Feel comfortable enough in your own skin to know, feel, what is best for you. And if/when you can, find work that you’re passionate about…that fills your soul!
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.
Again, being true to yourself, loving yourself, valuing yourself, is key here. That is where we need to start. And, again, for me that came from staying active in a very strong support group of AA and using the tools they so freely offered.
There are many places to find support…your church, your doctor, your friends, your family (please, not your bartender), and a wealth of support groups to fit your needs. Use them. You never have to be alone to struggle through life. They can teach you how to kindly express your feelings, stop walking on egg shells, be true to yourself.
I learned that living from my heart and not my head (which rationalized any- and everything detrimental to my greatest good), was the way to go for me. I learned that trusting in a Higher Power of My Own Understanding and turning my will and life over to the care of that Power Greater Than Myself, was freeing and took the burdens of life off my shoulders. I learned that I have no control over people, places, or things, so go with the flow and just take care of my side of the street (so to say).
Getting rid of negative thoughts and feelings (resentments) is crucial to this process. And learning how your part (if any) in these situations blew them out of proportion is vital to their resolve. Fear-based? Ego? Selfishness? Let it go. It doesn’t serve you. Be true to yourself and love yourself for who and what you are. Be comfortable in your own skin. And then you can comfortably speak your mind with grace and love.
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.
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.
Although I am not an avid supporter of social media, it has made keeping in touch much easier. I have found long-lost friends on the internet. Today we have relationships more priceless than we had when the memories that were conjured up in my brain even occurred.
When thoughts of long-lost friends arise, follow through on them. There are no coincidences. These thoughts arise for a reason. Honor them.
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.
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.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Release your inner child. That beautiful, uninhibited YOU that you were meant to be. Laugh. Be silly. Have fun. Don’t worry about what others will think about you because “they” usually don’t give a shit anyhow. They are too wrapped up in their own lives and egos to care. Let them be on their own journeys. Love them. Accept them. But don’t seek their approval. Seek your own! Be happy, joyous and free! and live a life that serves YOU as if today were the last day of your life!
Thank you all for reading and being part of my story. With warmest aloha and best wishes for a wonderful New Year and New Life, Dee Harris
I use affirmations to keep me on track when the busyness of life takes me away from the moment in front of my nose. They help recenter me. If you’re interested in inspiring, even funny, affirmations, please visit my website at www.DeesignsByHarris.com. Mahalo and enjoy!
Note: This excellent article is mirrored from the original posted at Bronnie Ware's website. "Based on this article, Bronnie has now released a full length book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying - A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. It is a memoir of her own life and how it was transformed through the regrets of the dying people she cared for. This inspiring book is available internationally through Hay House."
Copyright Bronnie Ware.
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