Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Top 5 Regrets of The Dying

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Bronnie Ware
Inspiration and Chai

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

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.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

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.

It is very important to try and honour 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 realise, until they no longer have it.


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.

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.

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.

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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 for 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 to 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.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Bonnie Ware is the author of the new book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.  Visit her official website Inspiration and Chai.





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43 comments:

Anonymous said...

This article is great - very helpful, thanks!

Anonymous said...

If you do number one, then all else follows.

Find a job type that offers a reasonable income, variety, and mobility. In a word, Contract! Pick an occupation that requires a minimum of personal tools: Engineering, Trades, Nursing, etc.

Your time and fortune are yours to manage!

Anonymous said...

In reference to point No 2.
I will always remember this Hong Kong billionaire saying that if you work hard, you too, will be wealthy.
Now, let me ask you this: how many wealthy people, I mean really fabulously wealthy, do you know who worked really hard throughout their entire life?
Let me answer: NONE!
Hence, the hypocrisy of the entire system.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for posting this.

No to NCLB said...

This is a beautiful article. My hat off to the writer who took the time to share. And to Activist Post for posting it.

Anonymous said...

I've decided not to die. That way I can keep on doing what I am doing. Stress is killing me. Thank god for my cat.

Anonymous said...

not pursuing your dreams is the bitterest regret of all. Im 54. Time is running out. I can see the end from here and so many things did not get done that should have.

Anonymous said...

I`ve heard it said that the things we regret the most are the things we did`nt do

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful! I have posted this link as 'thoughts for today' on my FaceBook page.

Anonymous said...

nicely articulated, and should be looked upon by the young - so long as you live like this, you'll be okay. very good.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article and a reminder that we must all think and act positively to change the woes of this world for future generations or they wont have choices !!
The power to change is within all of us ! We can choose not to be controlled by others !

Anonymous said...

I am a hospice nurse and witness this every day. Helping the dying brings a whole new perspective on my life and on what's really important.

Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT!!!!!!!!!! AND TRUE.......

Troy Santel said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I am so passionate to helping people become the free spirits they were meant to be become.

At the age of 28, I realized that I was living the WRONG life. I was sad, miserable. I was stuck at a job that made me depressed. I hated the relationship I was in. Everything was going wrong. It wasn't until I left my job and went without money when I realized I was chasing the wrong dream. I'm a FREE SPIRIT. AND I LOVE MY FREEDOM and HAPPINESS, more than money.

I am not like everyone else, nor do I want to be. I want to live my life the way I want to live it.

This article makes me want to push my message even more. Thank you so much.

<<<>>>

Anonymous said...

My choice? Whatever. Choices made early in life (to have kids, to choose a partner, a particular education/career) set a course from which there is little freedom from departing. Particularly the having kids part: you are locked in once you have them.
Dying people look back and blame themselves for choosing to not being happier? for not being authentic? They, like most of us, were stuck, trying to make the mortgage, put food on the table, provide something for the kids they decided to have, deal with all the stress that being alive brings, and playing out the decisions that they made earlier in life when they had hope that it would all turn out better. Despite these nice stories about a few people having some sort of epiphany where they "got happy," unless you stopped some addiction that was standing in the way of normal functioning, for most of us there will be no dramatic change, no 'aha' moment where we learn to enjoy life, because it just isn't realistic/possible.
Totally unconvinced and unmoved.

Allie_Sass said...

I have to disagree with the above. It is possible to live happy and free with children. Family is a wonderful source of happiness in life. I don't think the person above understands that bills, kids, jobs don't make us stress out, we stress out about bills, kids, jobs. You will lose if you approach every obstacle in life with a chip on your shoulder. "You attract more bees with honey".

All five points resonate. I recently have experienced a few of these points and have the blessing of figuring it out young. I am 29 and was living a numb existence.

I'm naturally a caring person and I generally give myself to others before myself. A hard childhood of divorce, abuse, raising siblings and doubly hard adolescence gave me a maturity that leant itself to my survival. I dove into work and made my job my soul purpose. I put my life on auto-pilot.

Then I was struck by a car in '08 and suffered a serious head injury . I lost my job, my relationship, family members...The only way I was going to survive this new form of depression I had to be content with holding onto any new introduction in my life, without considering whether it was something that enriched my life and made me happy.

I withered away to a mere 90 pounds. I had no control over my anxiety; crossing the street was terrifying for years. I was working more than any human should. But I was told (along with silently berating myself) that my job was a blessing and that I was lucky to even be alive. All the while, I was miserable and lonely and physically ill.

A few months ago a blackout anxiety attack I suffered while working a real estate convention woke me up. I had been ignoring the warning signs for too long. I took my life by the reigns and quit my job on a Friday and haven't looked back. A decade in an industry I didn't enjoy, I decided to go for happiness and applied for my dream job. I faced all my fears and nothing terrible happened. In fact, the exact opposite.

Now I have a job I can't be more excited about, a healthy body and mind, which lends itself to keeping my relationships properly nurtured. I feel inspired again and willing to try new things. I feel true inner happiness.

Sure, I have a boatload of debt, life-long disabilities, and the fears we all have, but I'm not letting that rule my life. I am going to live every day true to me.

Thank you for this article, Bonnie. I want to spread this like wildfire!

Lauria Opperman said...

#1."It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment you lose your health it is too late. Health brings a freedom...."

Awareness brings Freedom. Forgive yourself and have the courage to live TODAY!!! Imagination and sharing your dreams can be a wonderful adventure. It is NEVER to late!!!

Lili said...

This is brilliant. Thank you. Fukushima and the coming wars are about to make a lot of lives much shorter. Hopefully your article will help people focus on what is important.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I'd been thinking about #5 quite a bit. I'm in my 50s. When I look back, I wonder why I didn't let myself have more fun. (see #2). I don't want to be 80, look back and wonder, "Why didn't I enjoy myself more when I was in my 50s?"

Anonymous said...

For many years I lived with a focus which was just on me, myself and getting ahead; trying to be better than the next guy....woman. Now, as I am approaching the end of my work life I am terrified of leaving this earth without having known love for many many years and filled with regret and the people and animals that I let go because I was too concerned with me. Nothing to love, no memories to pass on, no one to hug goodnight at night or a pet to give a big kiss to. Makes me very, very sad and very scared. It is the only reason why we are here, to love, to work to make this world a better place and not just for our own selfish ends. I used to think it was about who was the smartest...now I know it is about who can love the most. What could be worse than leaving this world without having deeply loved. That, to me, is a fate worse than death. Now I just want to love as much as i can.

gram said...

Agreed! At 81 and handicapped by post-polio, I'm forever thankful for 10/19/87 when everything I'd worked hard for (designing and building spec houses) collapsed in the market crash. I had to forfeit all but what I could fit in my car, and headed to Florida. There, living on a $4.75/hr job, I found new friends in a similar economic position and have been "free" of social stress ever since. At that point I was still physically fit and active. Now I need assistance, but I have the memories of those "free" days when I played equally as hard as I worked. Balance is beautiful.

p.s. Thanks too, to Social Security and Medicare! I paid into them and am thankful they are there for me now that I can't work.

Anonymous said...

meh. only Jesus

monika hardy said...

imagine... no mention of money. no mention of school math....

Anonymous said...

Dec 3 9:44pm said: Now I just want to love as much as i can.

Yes, I agree and that's why so people are going into churches in droves. Churches are "love in cooperation". They are full of mistakes too, because humans will make mistakes and wear masks. But, the central idea is to seek love and pass on love. Many get obsessed with rules and conduct- but that's only suppose to protect the "flock" from pain, not restrict you from living. Relationship is what matters most. Relationship with God, with each other, with yourself. Forgive yourself, forgive others, forge ahead with a new spirit. I won't quote the usual verses that are trite to most, but my guess is those who died with a mature and developed faith had less issues with the "Top 5". I would love to find out if this is true or not.

Anonymous said...

life is not easy..bills need to be paid, bad things happen..etc etc...the list goes on and on...i follow certain rules... Follow your dreams, for if dreams die, life is like a broken winged bird that cannot fly...Dont let anyone steal your peace for it will be YOU that loses....It is your choice I chose to be happy...the love of family friends and good health are all mine and i feel blessed ..one more favorite quote i follow...Life is whats happening to you while you busy making other plans!!!!

Anonymous said...

This mostly applies to Americans the rest of the world doesn't live to work but works to live.

Anonymous said...

I too was caught up in the daily grind...not appreciating the many blessings in my life. Until, in May 2010 I had major surgery which revealed Stage 3C Ovarian Cancer. Now, over 1 1/2 years later I am cancer free. The journey through 2 surgeries and chemo taught me to enjoy every day. I heard a quote the other day that I like very much. "Every day may not be a good day, but there is something good in every day". The writer hit the nail on the head. We choose to be happy. We choose what importance to put on which things in our life. When I got my priorities in line, joy came. We must learn to enjoy the simplest things in life. Too many of us have looked for the big things in life that bring happiness: Marriage, a new job, house, etc. But if we focus on the simple joys (like the other day I spent a couple of minutes just watching a humming bird close up that brought me such peace) we can be happy in the mundain. I choose happiness. I choose life!

swingophelia said...

Actually, the author's name is BRONNIE Ware, not Bonnie Ware. And the photograph at the top is NOT of the author.

http://bronnieware.com/bio.htm

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/145250234X/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=permacultucom-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=145250234X

Stephanie said...

Do what makes you happy. It's as simple as that.

It was a matter of months ago where I was bummed out working 9-5. I felt like I was wasting my life.

I got together with a friend and we decided to open our own business up. I now set my own hours to work and I can do what I want, when I want (within reason).

Life is short so please make the most of your oppritunity.

Anonymous said...

Life is an adventure enjoy the ride

Anonymous said...

It is a sweet fiction. I lived for years with hope, stayed connected to friends, invested time with my young children, followed my dream to focus on my family, hoping that training in my career (an advanced degree) would pay off eventually .. now, I am stuck. the economy doesn't have room for me. We will probably loose our home and our kids will suffer...that is the worst. Being poor as a single person...big woop.u haveto the luxur and time to reevaluate your life. With a family? It is hell.
My choice is to pursue a career in something I hate, even then a long shot, to save my family from ruin. Sick of the plattitudes and false hope articles like this offer.
I "chose" to be happy in the past and am now paying for my foolishness....my life is just a series of regrets and now there is no real choice but continue to play out the dumb choices I made before

Anonymous said...

Put your kids to work. My parents had a big pile of kids and no money and as soon as we were able, we worked and contributed and some of us saved the family from financial ruin in the inflationary '70s when my dad was the sole bread(stick)winner. I'm sure it made us closer too. There's nothing wrong with child slave labor, as long as it's for the family;)
Don't get depressed. Get even. The system wants you to fail and go on anti-depressants... or worse.

Anonymous said...

great article,its very informative.its never too late to learn.i am 56 and ready to catch up .

Anonymous said...

I too, worked in hospice. I have been with a younger sister while she died, as well as cared for my mother and another sister while dying. Unlike this person, I can only speak for myself - but I think this writer is glossing over a lot of hard truths with some easy sentiment. It is true, very few of the dying I (and again, I speak only for myself), wish they had spent more time at the office, but many died proud of the work they accomplished, whether in the arts, medicine, or evening cleaning office buildings. Many were alienated and afraid of their families. I remember one patient who was terrified of meeting her husband in heaven because he beat her regularly. And it is true, life is short. But human beings and the way they live their lives are incredibly complicated. I wish it was as easy as "choosing happiness." Most of the patients, even the ones with incredibly happy lives, realized that life was learning about the fact that things are not that simple. As I reflect on my work with the dying, and my time spent with my mom and two sisters, I realize that life is most beautiful when we consider its mystery, not when we reduce it to a list...

Anonymous said...

Everytime I hear someone complain about their loved one leaving dishes in the sink, etc. I always say to him or her, "There will come a day when you would give anything for them to have left dishes in the sink."

This always makes them pause.

matron said...

wow amazing article. very thought provoking. i like the part about being silly. i like being silly!

Anonymous said...

Ah, well then, we all have had our regrets. It's best to view them as a learning experience and amend our ways, particularly in regard to to our reltionships with others. At age 77, my only regret is that there are more years behind me than those ahead. : )

Anonymous said...

I have no regrets. Sure I wish I could slap the spouse whenever s/he is a lazy laggard but I don't/ Sure I wish I could live my life backpacking around the world. But I choose to lead a self-disciplined life, raising my kids and working hard at being a role-model. And I am still passionate. I have no regrets. I am consciously making the choices I am making. All of us live life as per our destiny. We can't have fairytale lives full of long days spent in coffee shops, being in perfectly loving relationships and living on enough money. That is not reality. Stop chasing a mirage. Stop reading such impractical stuff. YOU ARE MAKING A GOOD LIFE - Live in the present and respect the people around you.

Anonymous said...

"Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."

LOL. So, what, where you working in palliative care with no medical training to speak of? Patients getting sick from upset feelings?

Anonymous said...

I gotta say the article was good, but the diversity of reactions was fascinating. I'ld say it is important to be true to yourself and enjoy what your doing - do what you enjoy as often as possible, but you can't beat yourself up for taking care business and fulfilling obligations.

Anonymous said...

Anon from January 12th, 2012: And are you, perhaps, a medical professional? I very much doubt it, as it appears you've never heard of Psychosomatic medicine. Think for a while longer about what you're going to type before making another idiotic comment.

Anonymous said...

Those are 5 good points.

I wonder if anyone actually lives their lives by all 5 - and what effect will it have?

Anonymous said...

Very inspiring article! I have always wanted to know what the elderly think as they look back in time, their perspective of the world based on their knowledge gained over the many decades.

I had never asked myself what the top regrets of the dying are, but now I know that I've always wanted to know this.

Thank you very much for sharing this knowledge with all of us! I cannot stress this enough. Thank you!

BTW I see that you have a WHOLE book about it. Definitely reading it!

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