Regrets of the Dying

My father dreamed of going elk hunting out west. He worked at least 40-hour weeks at American Motors and maintained a huge garden so finding the time (and extra cash) was a strug-gle. Dad occasionally took time for himself to hunt or fish, but at age 55 he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He died three months later, never having achieved his dream to elk hunt.

Bronnie Ware, a nurse from Australia who took care of patients in their last three to twelve weeks of life, wrote a book called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” She shares pa-tients’ stories and final thoughts. Here are the five most common regrets, ending with the most common of all.

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

Older people realize, often too late, that happiness is a choice. Dark clouds come, but see-ing the clouds’ silver linings would have made them happier. The dying realize all they’d taken for granted and wished they’d savored moments such as getting hugs from grandchildren, smell-ing the earth after a rain, the joy of baking for family and friends, the chance to walk in nature, and cuddling with their spouse.

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

Friendships take time, but the dying realize how valuable those friendships are. I recall an elderly woman telling me that she was ready to die because she no longer had any friends. Peo-ple get caught up in their own lives and old friendships slip away. Bronnie Ware writes, “There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Eve-ryone misses their friends when they are dying.”

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

The dying wished they hadn’t cared so much about keeping peace and regretted not re-vealing who they were and how they truly felt about things. Suppressing those feelings some-times resulted in health issues. An elderly woman, barely able to whisper, once made Bronnie make her a promise. “Live true to your own heart. Don’t ever worry what others think.”

Truth be told, people aren’t thinking about you as much as you think they are anyway. They have their own stuff going on.

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

Bronnie writes that this regret came from every male patient that she nursed. Women also mentioned it, but as most were from an older era, many of the women patients hadn’t been in the workforce. The dying wished they’d spent more time with their children and spouse. To quote John, one of Bronnie’s patients, “Don’t work too hard. Try to maintain balance. Don’t make work your whole life.” And now, for number one.

1. I Wish I Lived for Myself More

This is a heart breaker. To quote a dying patient, “It’s not like I wanted to live a grand life. I am a good person and I didn’t wish to harm anyone. But I wanted to do things for me, too. and I just didn’t have the courage.” The dying regret their unfulfilled dreams. They regret not taking time out for themselves.

In my father’s case, I like to think he would have gone on that trip if he could have sur-vived the cancer. In any case, his early death is a reminder to take steps toward achieving that long-held dream.

As far as the other four regrets, consider arranging for time off. Don’t worry so much about what others think about you. Carve out time for friends. And choose happiness.

Chase those dreams. Plan that elk hunt. Live while you can.

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