Rob Buckingham's Blog

Regrets of the Dying

I’m sitting in my sister’s lounge room in Perth having received word yesterday (Tuesday 3rd June) that my mum is in her final days of life.  For the last several years she has been steadily going down hill because of vascular dementia.  We went to see mum this morning.  It was good to have a chat with her – although it was brief and she’s really not sure who I am.  I played an old song to her on my iPhone and she enjoyed singing along to it but then she drifted off to sleep again.  I’m not sure how long she has left but I pray she doesn’t linger long like this.

Seeing my dear mum like this reminded me of an article I read a while ago by Bronnie Ware who worked for many years in palliative care. Her patients were those who had gone home to die and Bronnie had some incredibly special times as she was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

Bronnie observes, “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.”

In their final weeks Bronnie questioned her patients about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five as reported by Bronnie Ware in her blog “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.

  1. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that Bronnie 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 she nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

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 themselves, 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.

Based on her blog, Bronnie has now released a full-length book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. It is a memoir of her own life and how it was transformed through the regrets of the dying people she cared for. You may like to read the book or at least spend some time thinking about the top five regrets of the dying and then make a choice to live the rest of your life so that these things don’t become regrets for you when your life is nearly over.

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