A palliative nurse recorded the most common regrets of the dying and put her findings into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. It’s not surprising to see what made the list, as they are all things that touch each of our lives as we struggle to pay attention to and make time for the things we truly love. Below is the list of each regret along with an excerpt from the book.
I’d like to address one thing before we get to this list, however. It’s important to remember that, regardless of what stage we are at in life, regret does not serve us. It leads to nothing but suffering, and when we indulge in it, we allow the past to dictate how we feel about the present. Rather than giving in to regret, we can use the past as a reference point to understand what adjustments we would like to make moving forward. The adjustments do not have to come out of a place of pain, sorrow, or judgment, but rather a choice to do things differently. We are learning all the time, and we can very quickly slow that learning process down by getting stuck in feelings of remorse. When it comes to making changes, be at peace with the past and remember that each moment is a new choice.
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. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
2. “I wish I hadn’t worked 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.”
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.”
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.”
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