Recently a blogger named Bronnie Wray published a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. She works in palliative care and started a blog called Inspiration and Chai where she wrote about her experiences of working with these patients. The blog created so much attention that she wrote the book.
I’ve copied and pasted the regrets for you below. They are fascinating to me.
I’m sure if you asked the question down the pub, i.e. what do you think you would regret the answers would be very different. I wish I had more sex or more money or even more power or time are NOT on the list anywhere!
What is even more interesting to me in relation to my work is that Wray noted that people grow a lot when faced with their own mortality, obviously this doesn’t mean that they get taller but rather that they grow emotionally and spiritually. I am sure this is why the ancients and mystics like Shakyamuni all taught that contemplation of death and our own mortality as vitally important to the human experience of life. From this begins a more fulfilling way to live. Rather than being morbid or depressing, it in fact allows for real spiritual and emotional growth. It’s a fact of life after all so it’s not constructive to ignore it or diminish it’s relevance to the living experience.
“First study death and then study other matters”
NICHIREN DAISHONIN (Gosho Zenshu)
Wary also noted that her patients would get incredible clarity of vision towards the ends of their lives and hopes that we can all benefit from their wisdom. I hope you will too.
TOP 5 REGRETS OF THE DYING
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.
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.
Wray’s simple conclusion reminded me of one of my favourite quotes that I found on the “Just for today card” over three and half years ago and which was to become my spiritual practise and guiding mantra for many months in early recovery:
“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be”
ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1809-1865)