Top Five Regrets of the Dying
I worked in palliative care for many years. My patients were the ones who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special moments 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’ve learned to never underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Everyone experienced different emotions as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and finally acceptance. Yet every single patient found their peace before they left, every single one of them.
When asked about their regrets or something they would have done differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the five most common:
1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expect 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 remained unfulfilled. Most people didn’t live up to even half of their dreams and had to die knowing it was because of a choice they made or didn’t make.
It is very important to try and honor at least some of your dreams along the way. By the time you lose health, it’s too late. Health brings a freedom that very few realize until they no longer possess it.
2. I wish I didn’t work so much.
This came from every male patient I nursed. They missed the youth of their children and the company of their spouse. Women also spoke of this regret. But since most are of an older generation, many of the patients did not make ends meet. All the men I have nursed have deeply regretted having spent so much of their lives on the treadmill of a working existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, you may not need the income you think you have. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new possibilities, ones that are better suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I 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 what they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses related to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, even though people may initially react when you change the way you are by being honest, in the end it takes the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or release the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way you win.
4. I wish I had kept in touch with my friends.
Often they didn’t really realize the full benefits of old friends until their deaths, and it wasn’t always possible to track them down. Many were so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip away over the years. There were many deep regrets that we didn’t give friendships the time and effort they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they die.
It’s common for anyone who leads a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip away. But when faced with impending death, the physical details of life disappear. People really want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it’s not money or status that really matters to them. They want to arrange things more for the benefit of those they love. However, they are usually too sick and tired to ever tackle this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That’s all that’s left in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish I had allowed myself to be happier.
This is surprisingly common. Many did not understand until the end that happiness is a choice. They were stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called “comfort” of knowledge spilled over into their emotions as well as their physical lives. The fear of change made them pretend to others and to themselves that they were content. When deep down they longed to have a proper laugh and have the silliness back in their lives.
When you’re on your deathbed, what others think of you is far from your mind. How wonderful to be able to break free and smile again long before you die.
Life is a choice. This is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
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