Insights from dying people to help the rest of us with living

You’ve probably heard the cliché that no one on his death bed wishes he’d spent more time at the office.

But while I was there as both my mother and stepmother died, I don’t have any great insight into the psyche of the dying and what they wish they had or hadn’t done with their time on earth.

So I was delighted to come across a blog called Inspiration and Chai, in which writer Bronnie Ware gives a summary of the thoughts in her book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” She shares insights from her time serving dying patients in palliative care.

What can we learn about living from those facing death?

A very abridged version of Bronnie’s powerful post includes these as the top five:

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

So the cliché about spending more time at the office does show up — along with other powerful lessons, like being true to yourself and making it a priority to nurture friendships.

Read Bronnie’s post in its entirety here.

This is the time of year when many of us make New Year’s resolutions. Do you see anything on this list that inspires you to want to start 2012 differently?

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Categories: career, health and well being, home and family, lifestyle

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. I have been thinking a lot about (I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends) the last few days funny how a loved one’s death will open doors you did not know were closed…

  2. I love reading about this topic because it reminds us what is important. Thanks!

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  1. Laurie Anderson gives a noble goal of peace and grace in her farewell to Lou Reed « Newvine Growing

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