I was made aware a few years back of Bronnie Ware’s work with palliative care patients, who are those who had gone home to die. She was able to ask them some big-life questions at that most significant stage in their lives, and came away with some very important findings for the rest of us. She questioned them about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, and found a few common themes that surfaced again and again.
Here are Bronnie’s most common five regrets of the dying:
- “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 realize 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 honored 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 honor 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 realize, until they no longer have it.
- “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.
- “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.
- “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
Often they would not truly realize 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 all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
- “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize 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.
“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,” states Bonnie.
For me the key lessons here are:
– Reconnect with your own authenticity. Living life through other people’s beliefs, to strive to meet others’ expectations at the expense of your own dreams is such a waste, and creates too much pain.
– Connect with those who matter to you with openness, honesty, vulnerability – allow them to see the real you, and allow them to love you in deeper, more meaningful ways.
– Don’t wait until you are on your deathbed to realize what is truly important.
– Work is important, but it’s not the most important. Be aware of priorities (health, family, growth), and find ways to balance what’s important as your life journey unfolds.
– Live your life well in the here and now.
Life at its essence is all about choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, and choose honestly. Choose authenticity, joy, connection, meaning and happiness.