By now, most people have heard of this article.
Palliative care worker, Bronnie Ware, wrote these “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” as a blog post and it went viral. Millions around the world read it within a year. It hit a nerve… tugged the heart strings. She ended up writing a book about these 5 regrets.
It’s not all that surprising to see what made the list. We’ve heard some variation of these our entire lives, I think. (We just don’t always choose to pay attention!)
I had seen this list awhile ago. Then it re-surfaced when my dad was in assisted living, then in “hospice” care for those final weeks. I didn’t have the gumption to read it then.
I finally re-read it a few days ago and started thinking more and more about it. My mom and dad both had long, slow deaths. I’m sure they both knew what was happening… although we didn’t talk about it 100% directly… we kind of danced around it somewhat… which I can’t really explain. Nor do I care to try.
Nevertheless, seeing this list again made me think about my parents’ experiences with dying, and whether these things on the list were true for them. Were there more regrets? Less? Were there really even regrets at all… or had they accepted and embraced the events and choices of their past? Maybe they just saw some things as “it was the best we could do at the time.”
Regret doesn’t get us very far. It’s right up there with guilt. It doesn’t serve us well – it’s negative and toxic. Not something I would look forward to on my “death bed”. It’s not something I like NOW. And I DO already have regrets. When I hear all the “young” people talking about how they live with no regrets, I’m sometimes impressed, sometimes skeptical, and sometimes I just call flat-out bull poop wondering how on earth you could live this life and not wish you had made a different choice at some point in your history!
Yeah, yeah… I know what you just said. “If we didn’t make the choices of our past, we wouldn’t be living THIS life with these people and these circumstances right now!” Honestly, sometimes I’m OK with that idea!
C’mon. I don’t think that wishing you had done something differently makes you a horrible, weak, or”un-spiritual” person.
However, seeing that there are such commonly expressed regrets of the dying is all the more reason to take a look at life NOW… and see how these common regrets can possibly be ‘corrected’ or avoided.
Here’s the list that Bronnie presented, along with an excerpt from her 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 honored 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 realize, 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 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.”
5. 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.”
I know for my mom, she probably wished she had expressed herself a bit more. I think she had a pretty thick scar on that tongue of hers from biting it so often!
The day before she passed, she really wanted to share 2 things:
1) She really urged me to “just enjoy my children… truly enjoy them.”
2) If you want to “be happy”, you have to “choose” to be happy… over and over, no matter what.
In hindsight, I’m sure the advice on children had to do with her losing her son, my brother, at an early age. And maybe from her perspective, she didn’t spend enough time with me because she worked so much… BUT, it’s interesting, I don’t see it that way. My mom was always there, or I was (almost) always with her at work.
The choosing happiness part, again, resulted from her losses in life. She told me that this was how she eventually recovered from the loss of her child. She consciously decided to “choose happiness because it just felt better to live that way.”
I don’t know about regrets with my mom. She never mentioned them. She seemed to be happy for the 39 years I knew her, although I know she was so sad to be “leaving”… and missing Dad, me, and those cherished grandchildren of hers.
I also recently discovered that there may have been another child before my mom met my dad. Maybe she had some regrets there. I don’t know because she never spoke of giving a child up for adoption.
With my dad, I know he regretted working so much. He worked his entire life up ’til a year before he passed. In the final years, though, he “had to”. Which leads to something else I think he regretted – some of the financial decisions he made. Even in his final weeks, when his mind was ‘failing’ (?), he would express stress over finances… and work.
With both of my parents, I’m sure they regretted not being there with my brother the day he drowned. But, really… what on earth are you going to do with that?! Accidents happen. I’m not sure where they stood with that on their ‘death beds’. I’m just glad they’re all together again.
Dad regretted not traveling more. It was one of his great passions. When Mom got sick, they had to put plans on hold. After Mom died, and his health was getting worse, he really wanted to see a few of the places that topped his list. Unfortunately, by then, his funds were drying up from all the medical expenses… and then he just couldn’t get around as easily. I hope he has the perfect view of Alaska now. And Europe. And the Wellington Canal! (Really.)
I’m sure he had some regrets about his (lack of) relationship with his siblings. I know he regretted not being “nicer” to my mom at times… although he loved her passionately, sometimes we’re tough on those we love the most. Or so I’ve heard.
I don’t know if either of my parents had any regrets regarding their health. I mean, I’m sure they “wished” they didn’t have cancer. But I don’t know if either regretted certain treatment choices they made or didn’t make. They never mentioned it.
I already have regrets. Maybe that’s not even the right word, after all. Maybe it’s just… “I already have a list of things I wish had gone differently or wish I had made different choices about.” It’s just a word. The feelings are probably quite similar. Part of me thinks that, the longer you live, the more “stuff” happens… and you might not always have the most pleasant feelings about it!
I regret that I “have to” work so much at this stage of the kids’ lives. I regret that we haven’t traveled as much as I’d like while the kids were/are young. I regret that I didn’t spend more time relaxing with and talking with my dad this past summer. I regret that I’ve lost touch with some people over the years. I regret that I’m not more independent in some areas. I regret that I’ve taken the path of being a “pleaser” and putting other people’s feelings before my own. I regret allowing the circumstances to develop that lead me to feel unappreciated. I regret feeling afraid to speak my mind. I regret some of the big financial decisions we’ve made. I sometimes regret that I trusted some people that should not have been trusted and looked the other way when I shouldn’t have… but I’m working on that one. Forgiveness is a tough pill sometimes!
(Mind you, my list of GREAT things is much, much longer!)
So what can we do to live a life that brings us to the end of the road with no regrets?
Clearly, I don’t have the answer! Although, I think part of the solution is to cut ourselves some slack.
I feel that, right here, right now, there ARE some things that just have to get done. There ARE some things that have to be put off. It’s not always “settling” or “living in tomorrow”. Sometimes, it just is what it is. I think what’s most important is who we ARE given our current circumstances. Are we being the best version of our highest selves? Are we loving God and loving others? Are we simply just trying to be a good person and be good to others? Are we consistently painting the vivid picture in our mind’s eye of what we truly desire… and doing our best to feel good and stay positive, grateful, and optimistic? Are we at least getting it “right” most of the time? Some of the time?
I’m working on forgiving myself for poor choices of the past and embracing the moment now, as best I can… even when the “now” doesn’t feel all that great sometimes. When I can change it, I will. If I can ‘control’ it, I do. Either way, I choose to have faith… and I choose to be happy. Thankfully, I’ve become better and better at creating “moments” with my kids – realizing that will all go away too quickly. I’m doing what I can to make NOW as good as it can be.
Why wait until we’re “dying” to intentionally create a life that avoids the most common regrets?
Dr. Colleen Trombley-VanHoogstraat (“Dr Mom Online”) is a popular personality in Natural Health & Wellness. She is a Doctor of Chiropractic with 20 years of hands-on clinical experience in the Wellness Practice she shares with her husband, Dr. Marc VanHoogstraat, in Michigan. She is also the proud home schooling mom of two rather fabulous youngsters.
Her unique perspective of the science of Wellness provides predictable solutions and transformational results for those struggling with chronic health issues, as well as those seeking lifelong health. To discover her simple strategies for creating better health through nutrition, movement and mindset, regularly visit http://DrMomOnline.com, http://Facebook.com/DrMomOnline and http://Twitter.com/DrMomOnline.
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