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Live a Life with No Regrets – Lessons from the Top 5 Regrets of Dying

Learning from Regrets

Life throws us curve balls; that much is certain.  Have you ever found yourself on a solid path toward a goal and then WHAM – something happens to derail you?  If you are anything like me, you face each day wondering what life will dish out.  Yes, life is full of uncertainties, except for one: we have a limited amount of time here on this planet.  It sounds morose, doesn’t it? But, on the positive side, IT IS NOT TOO LATE.  We all awoke this morning with a full day ahead of us, our blank canvas to paint as we want. Despite this, I often find myself rushing through life, responding to daily demands, and forgetting to notice the beauty in front of me.  There is much to be learned from those who are approaching the end of their lives.  So, given that we have a limited time, the questions remain:

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How do we make the most of the time we are given?

How do we live our lives to the fullest and minimize regrets?

Bronnie Ware, a singer/songwriter/palliative care nurse from Australia, spent years caring for people during the last weeks of their lives and had conversations with them about end-of-life regrets.  She reports that through these conversations, she noticed that  people gain clarity of vision at the end of their lives and that “common themes surfaced again and again.”

Eventually she wrote a blog titled  “Regrets of the Dying.”  The blog received so much attention world-wide that she published her observations in a book titled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.”  You can find her inspirational blogs at www.inspirationandchai.com and her book at www.bronnieware.com.

So what are the top 5 regrets of the dying according to Bronnie’s book?

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 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 honoured even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choice they had made, or not made.  It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way.

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.

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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 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 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.

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 the 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.

What can we learn from those who have gone before us?

Be true to yourself, find balance in your life, express yourself, keep connections with family and friends, and choose happiness.

And frankly, a little silliness might do us some good!

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