Bronnie Ware once worked in palliative care and heard all the usual regrets of the dying.
Bronnie Ware is an Australian singer, songwriter, healer and a wonderful free spirit of a woman. Check out her blog at“Inspiration and Chai.”
What follows is an excerpt of her book about the “regrets of the dying”–regrets she heard expressed when she worked in palliative care.
I’ve published this list of “Top Five Regrets” here at this blog before and I think it bears re-posting occasionally. I used to hear these same deathbed regrets constantly in hospital and hospice ministry.
And then, just the other day, I heard a regret from an American tourist I met. He’s here in Belize with his family who came here because, well–he always wanted to visit beautiful Belize for some extended time to “get away from it all.” Unfortunately, he said, he never took the time from working so hard at his business to really come and enjoy Belize, a country he’d visited briefly before about twelve years ago. “I fell in love with Belize and always wanted to come back every year but just never got around to it,” he told me.
He was recently given six months to live and his return to Belize was first on the “bucket list” he made when he received his terminal diagnosis.
His story reminded me of these very regrets that Bronnie Ware heard and I heard and anyone who has ever been a caregiver to dying people has heard:
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.
Dying people often regret that they worked so hard and wish they had traveled or done things more for fun and leisure.
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 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.
My friend finds happiness strolling around the market on Saturdays singing and making people happy with his music. He wants no money for it, just wants the happiness it brings him and others.
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.