Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Top Five Regrets of the Dying

The Guardian (UK)
Susie Steiner
February 1, 2012.

A nurse has recorded the most common regrets of the dying, and among the top ones is 'I wish I hadn't worked so hard'. What would your biggest regret be if this was your last day of life?

There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. A palliative nurse who has counselled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is 'I wish I hadn't worked so hard'.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. "When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently," she says, "common themes surfaced again and again."

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

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."

What's your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?

Comment: My good friend Lorna sent me a link to this article this morning and it gave me an extra moment to reflect.

In the last few weeks I have again thought about the balance between life and death and making sense out of attaching meaning to life.

I have re-read Thoreau's "Walden" since my return from the US as I struggle in particular to balance the business of work and what work means.

In a very clear sense, Thoreau drew much of his insights over a very short life from the masters of Taoism.

But more of that at another time, perhaps.

The article above romanticizes the dying and the process of death. There is no doubt in my mind that many more people arrive at death with a certain unclarity and even disdain for the process of life and living.

Life cannot be contained or defined by regrets or experience. Life is not easy and it offers no definitive answers and so why should death be any different?

But I also think it unwise to just ignore the universal warning in these collected wisdoms, if you will.

This quote from the nurse really stood out for me: "Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it."

Don't take your health for granted hey!

I am struggling with number 2 and number 5 hangs over my head as an ongoing warning. These two resonate very closely.

I am less concerned with keeping in touch with people and not losing friends. Folks change and at times it is necessary to lose some people to keep the balance.

I was talking to a woman who is going through a bitter divorce the other day and she put it very firmly and outright when she said: "I have no more time left for toxic people in my life."

I agree. Wise words.

But like the eternal dualism of life there are also those friends and loved ones who define your life.

Those folks are perhaps the ones who are missed by the dying above.

On the question of the greatest regret and what to achieve before dying I think it somewhat foolish to even expect that any life can be so determined or manufactured.

We all have regrets and there will be more to the ones we piling up now.  As for achieving stuff this is perhaps the stickiest problem of all to overcome.

I like the Taoist emphasis on detachment.

In other words, it is best to work on knowing both the value of success and failure or achieving and not achieving and recognizing that either condition cannot exist without the other.

So, balance regrets without being regretful.


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