In her compelling book ‘Top five regrets of the dying’ Bronnie Ware shared her experience while working as a palliative nurse and caring for those who were in the last 12 weeks of their life.
Her book is moving. Her stories are compelling.
Over the course of a few years and working doing the same daily tasks routinely, Bronnie became aware of the common themes of her patients.
Her patients had regrets.
Regrets that were too late to address. Too late to do anything differently. Too late to correct their course and fix those regrets.
There were five that were major themes and Bronnie shares those regrets below;
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. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
2. I wish I hadn’t worked 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
The Sobering Facts of Regret
When I read that list I can’t help but consider my own life, my own regrets and my own behaviours.
I’m sure if we were sitting together right now I could ask you;
“Are you being true to yourself or are you living the way you are because of the expectations of others?”
What would your answer be? Living a life to meet the expectations of others must be burdensome. A heavy weight to carry. A load that you know is foreign and yet for some reasons you won’t put that load down and walk, almost weightlessly away from it.
What about working too hard?
I’m convinced that today the amount of hours we work is causing marriages to fail and families to fall apart. More hours working has NEVER increased the quality of life. Because life is more than work. Life is about people and your interactions with them and most of all the love you have for each other.
That love can’t grow if you’re always at work.
Do you express your feelings?
We probably all know people who bottle it all up inside… It’s unhealthy carrying around those emotions. Unforgiveness is a crushing weight that hurts you more than the person you won’t forgive. It plagues your heart and mind and is always there, ready to surface when the smallest signal triggers the faintest memory.
Speaking about feelings isn’t something men are generally good at. It’s hard. I’m a thinker more than a feeler. (Ask yourself, do you often say “I think…” or do you generally say “I feel…” when you start sentences. That’ll tell you the kind of person you are).
As a thinker my feelings are far more numb than my feeler friends. So it’s been a challenge to express my feelings and often I don’t have the right words to say… but I now talk about the way I feel regularly. I confront when it’s important to confront and it helps to move beyond the present and happily into the future.
Are you keeping up with friends?
In 2010 I quit my career and went out to work for myself.
One deciding factor was to spend more time with friends and family and I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to adopt a habit of regularly catching up with friends each week.
Being your own boss helps, but it still requires mindfulness to do so.
What’s more interesting to me is that my friends rarely organise their social life. In fact, it’s fair to say that my male friends suck at it.
As men, we get so focused on the tasks at hand that we often don’t look beyond to organise events or catch ups. Women are so much better at this than we are… but friends are essential to our well being.
How happy are you?
I’m glad to see that people recognise happiness is a choice. But it can go further than just a choice in your mind. It can also be an action.
As I’m well into my 40’s my wife is often reminding me that it’s OK to do things and buy things for myself. She knows that for years I barely spent on myself. Instead everything I earn is family first.
So every now and then she says to me ‘you should buy that, you’d really enjoy it.’
For me I know there’s always other things that our money can go towards.
But choosing to do something for yourself that makes you happy is worth it.
My recent car purchase showed me that.
I’m not a rev-head and never have been and truthfully have never really enjoyed driving, but every time I step into my Stinger I have a smile on my face.
So… after looking inward and thinking about your possible regrets – what are you going to do about it?
It’s only a regret if you don’t do something about it
Right now, you have a choice to make.
Do I change my course of action or do I keep going down the path I’m on.
The only difference between the person with no regrets and you is that they have CHOSEN to do what they’re doing.
Choose to live without regrets.