Australian palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, spent years looking after patients in the last 3-12 weeks of their lives. She documented their epiphanies at end-of-life and was stunned to see the clarity and commonality between the thoughts they expressed.
“People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth.”
In those final moments, Ware explains that patients experience the whole range of emotions: denial, fear, anger, remorse, and eventually acceptance. There’s an incredible wisdom that we can learn from and apply to our own lives today thanks to Ware and the patients who shared their dying thoughts. Here are the top five regrets at end-of-life:
1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself”
This is the most common regret of all patients and it’s easy to understand why. In retrospect, life is short, and so much time is often spent following the status quo and what is expected of us, rather than our dreams. While it may not be possible for all of us to do what we want, whenever we want, it’s important to think about the things that truly matter and find ways to pursue them.
These are choices that we alone can make, and for many it is difficult to look back thinking what could have been had we made different choices. When we lose our health, it’s too late. In health we have a freedom that we don’t even realise we have until we lose it.
2. “I wish I didn’t work so hard”
While many women spoke of this regret, it is something that men almost always express in their dying days. The reason this is more commonly expressed by men is because the patients were typically of the generation when they were the sole breadwinner for their family.
At the end-of-life it’s easy to reflect that we should have spent more time with our partner, our children and the special time in which they grow into young adults. Again, it comes down to the choices we make in life. All the time spent climbing the corporate ladder, immersed in the rat race, what is it for, truly? Status, money, power – it all means very little when we look back and take hold of the hands of those who are closest to our hearts.
3. “I wish I didn’t hold back my feelings”
Coming in at third place is the wish that we were more honest about our feelings. This is something most of us can relate to every day. How many times do we choose not to say something, or to say the thing which will cause the least disruption even if it’s not true? We often choose to say something, or not say something, because it’s the easy thing to do.
By being honest we can build deeper, stronger and more meaningful relationships with those around us. We open up new possibilities and conversations. How many times have we heard the story where the father is only able to tell his son that he loves him on his deathbed? Decades of pent up emotions come gushing out and a yearning for what could have been and how time could have been spent if they were honest from the start.
4. “I wish I had kept in touch with my friends”
Everyone reminisces the good times when they are dying. Joyful and golden memories raise us up, but what happened to the friends that filled those memories? As we get older it’s easy to become too preoccupied with life and let our best friendships slip away.
Once upon a time it was almost impossible to find childhood friends when the connection was lost. But these days with Facebook and social media, there’s no excuse for tracking down the friends who once formed such an important part of your life. Is there someone you should get back in touch with today?
5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier”
How many of us choose to let our emotions get caught up in unimportant things every day? We can choose to focus on the negative things or we can let them go and be thankful for the day we have today.
Sometimes it can be a habit that builds up over time, so slowly that we only realise what has happened at the very end. Chasing the seriousness of life can lead to us forgetting how to laugh, be silly, and smile. Happiness is a choice, but for so many it becomes one we forget how to make.
A common thread through all of this is choice. Whether it’s the choice to be happy, to stay in touch with friends, say the hard words, or follow your dreams. It’s so simple.
These words of the dying are a gift to those of us who are still living. We still have the freedom to make choices – choices that will let us live a life that we can look back on without any regrets.
That’s it – what do you think of the top 5 regrets people have at end-of-life? How many can you relate to?
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