How We Can Learn to Live From the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying


Do you have a "bucket list" or "life list" that you think about -- things you would like to do before your life is through? A lot of people do, including me. Mine includes traveling to Mauritius and Seychelles with my family.

Have you ever thought about how your list would change when the end of your life is imminent?

Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse in Australia, began to realize that a lot of people living through their last moments share similar regrets. In her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, she shows us that the wishes of the dying are very different from the wants of the living. People in the last months of their lives usually aren't wishing that they had crossed skydiving off their lists. Instead, when people come to the end of their time on earth, they truly start seeing their lives for what they were.

The wishes that Bronnie recorded are so insightful, they can help us to live in the present, be who we really are, and enjoy things NOW so as to not regret any moment when our time comes. I really do feel that what most people fear most about death is not dying itself, but not having lived enough. As Bronnie states, "Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it." I want to appreciate what I have, while I have it, and learning from the regrets of the dying can help me to re-frame my life list away from planning and toward living.

The most five common regrets of people at the end of their lives:

  1. Wishing they had the courage to live the life they truly wanted to and not just live for others: Bronnie found that this was the most common regret of all her patients. The patients spoke about all sorts of dreams they had for their lives but weren't able to fulfill because they were worried about other people and what they thought was expected of them, as opposed to doing what THEY wanted to do with their lives.
  2. Wishing they hadn't worked so hard: So many people regretted the amount of time they spent working, thinking there would be time later to enjoy their lives. Many male patients regretted not taking the time to see their children grow and spend time with their spouses because they were working so much. Take the time to appreciate your life and the great things in your life now and don't waste time later regretting it.
  3. Wishing they had expressed themselves: Many people got so worried about what others thought, or how they would react, so they hold in various feelings so as to not have to deal with the reactions. Bronnie notes that due to these suppressed feelings, patients would tell her "they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming" while others "developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried." Regret and bitterness can lead to illness.
  4. Wishing they had stayed in touch with friends: Life can be busy and stressful and it's easy lose touch with our friends, even though they may be close by, but losing out on those friendships can be a huge loss in our lives. Bronnie heard as a common theme patients telling her "there were deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort they deserved" and she observed "everyone misses their friends when they are dying." It is a good reminder that you don't need to wait until something tragic happens to reconnect.
  5. Wishing they had allowed themselves to be happier: Patients repeatedly told Bronnie that "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 lives again." People get so wrapped up in working hard, and living their lives, they forget to be happy.

I can see almost all of these pitfalls of modern-day life occurring so easily to me -- what about you? I try to live my life in the present, but I sometimes do wish I had reacted differently, or told people how I felt. I have learned so much from these regrets: appreciate the little things in life that make me happy, spend time with my good friends, family and loved ones, and don't worry about what is expected of me so much; live life for me. I should work to live the life that I want, not live to work, or I will easily miss out on the beautiful things that occur every day, and there may not be time later on to enjoy.

Bronnie's observations can help us to make happy and healthy choices, and remind us to let our feelings out (good or bad). Our life lists should be filled with things that help us prevent regret later on, and help us live happier lives today. So let's all take a moment to learn to live from those who cannot anymore, and make our lives memorable and filled with happiness.

Yours in Good Health



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