Are You Living Your Life So There Will Be No Regrets?

If your major thoughts center on your “to do” list — or what other people think of you – strap yourself in.

There’s nothing like an “in your face” message coming across your radar to stop you in your tracks. “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” is a book that has led me to think about the way I’m spending my time.

The title is a real show stopper in itself. And when I learned about the author, it was even more meaningful.

Australian Bronnie Ware is a singer/songwriter who has held a number of diverse jobs. In her search for more meaningful work, she landed in the area of palliative care, taking care of patients who were in the last weeks of their lives.

Cycle of Emotions

“People grow a lot when they’re faced with their own mortality,” Ware says. “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 – every single one of them.”

That’s got to be comforting to those of us who are left behind. And it can also serve as a call to find this quality before we’re on our death beds.

Top Five Regrets

Common themes surfaced again and again in the author’s conversations with those in their final days. Here are the five most common themes that emerged, along with the author’s observations – and mine.

  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 their life is almost over and look clearly on it, it’s easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most had not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing it was due to choices they had made – or not made.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. Men and women both lamented they’d missed their partner’s companionship and their children’s youth by spending so much of their lives on a work treadmill. By simplifying our lifestyles and making conscious changes along the way, it’s possible not to need the income we think we do. Time is now being acknowledged as the new currency. It all comes down to how we want to spend our life’s energy.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Lots of us suppress feelings to keep peace with others. As a result, we can end up settling for a mediocre existence and never become who we’re capable of becoming. Of course, there’s a balance; and a certain amount of finesse is needed. Otherwise, we can come off like a bull in a china shop. As a result of so many bottled up feelings, though, the author points out that many of her patients developed or fueled illnesses related to the bitterness and resentment they’d carried around for so long. We can’t control the reactions of others. People may initially react strongly when we start to set healthier boundaries. In the end, though, 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’d stayed in touch with my friends. Often patients wouldn’t 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’d let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort they deserved.
    It’s common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when faced with approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. Although people want to get their affairs in order, it’s not money or status that holds true importance for them. They want to get things in order for the benefit of those they love.  Sadly, though, they’re often too ill and weary to manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That’s all that remains in the final weeks – love and relationships.
  5. I wish I’d let myself be happier. Many didn’t realize ‘til the end that happiness is a choice. They’d allowed themselves to stay 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 themselves – that they were content. When deep within, they longed to have silliness in their lives again. When you’re on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind.

Wow – that last line speaks volumes! In fact, each of these five principles could be entire columns in themselves. Such simple and universal truths are definitely worth pondering … before it’s too late.