Australian palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, documented the five biggest regrets of dying people. The same themes came up again and again during the last three months of their life.
People talked candidly and with great clarity to at the end of their life. And, in reading some of their thoughts, feelings and regrets, you may be able to benefit from their words of experience and wisdom.
Here are peoples’ top five regrets and what you can do to avoid having them yourself …
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life expected of me …
All of us leave our mortal life with some of our dreams unfulfilled. But according to Bronnie, many of the people she counselled hadn’t even achieved half of their dreams. This, she says, were down to their own life decisions.
Behaving in ways that aren’t a genuine reflection of the real you may mean that you end up not being happy with yourself and even angry with about missed opportunities. You may also end up confused because you won’t know whom to please, or how. Be truer to who you really are to help to build self-respect.
What you can do
• Are your beliefs reasonable? If they are, stand up for them. Listen to the advice that people give you advice but try make up your own mind according to your experience, knowledge and values.
• Follow your common sense. It may sound as if this is common, but not everyone has it and not everyone follows the rules of common sense, either.
• Get to know, start to appreciate and grow your unique talents as you try to act in harmony with your true and positive nature.
• Know that being ‘different’ may not be a curse – it may be a gift for you and for others.
• Understand that when you are being yourself, you are enriching the people who love you.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard …
Every male patient Bonnie counselled said they regretted missing significant family’s life events. From when children were tiny and/or not being there for milestones to missing the ongoing companionship of their partner. This is a reflection of the age of the people being cared for and a reflection of the time when many men went out to work but the majority of women were the major family carers.
Today the social shift means that many more women go out to work. And, there is no doubt that most of us need to earn money to pay never-ending bills. But juggling your duties and your commitments in a small way can make a big difference to how connected you feel with your loved ones’ lives and vice versa.
What you can do
Again, a little can add up to a lot so do whatever you need to do to avoid regretting time not spent with loved ones later on
• Even if you can’t spend large blocks of time with the kids, if you’re driving them to school or to sports, have a conversation, play a silly game, tell a joke – make it a ritual to ban smartphones, iPads and more.
• Can’t be there in person? Use technology to read a book to the kids or tell your mum you love her by text or leave a note under your partner’s pillow.
• Prioritise what’s important to you. Go to work earlier or later one or more days to be there for dinner with the family. Take them out for a full day at the weekend bush walking, boating or cycling and picnicking.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings …
Saying what you really think can be scary and it definitely requires a bit of courage. But expressing your feelings in a safe way may help you feel more connected with loved ones. And, it’s vital if you want to sustain close relationships with mutual respect. Hiding and/or drastically modifying your feelings and avoiding what you’re really feeling is something all of us do this to some extent and for lots of reasons – such as trying to keep the peace. But do this a lot and the result can be that you look back with regret. The result can be bitterness, stress, resentment and even illness.
What you can do
Make a pact to start saying what you really feel. Start small with a loved one but do start.
• Don’t begin a sentence with ‘You make me feel …’ as this can sound like an accusation and also puts the responsibility for your feelings in the listener’s hands. Instead, try:‘ I feel …’ whether you’re feeling confused, saddened, tired …
• Dampen down the strength of the words you use. Instead of angry, try sad, instead of furious try upset. Angry words invited angry words in return. Try writing down your words and
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends …
Everyone is busy but making time for the people that matter matters. According to Bronnie, it wasn’t until the last weeks of a person’s life they realised how much they wanted to see dear friends and everyone misses their friends when they are dying. But by that time, of course, it may have been too late to track down long lost friends …
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier …
Staying within the same habits and patterns may feel like the easiest option. But along the line, you may regret it. Bronnie found that pretending to be happy and content for themselves, and for the sake of others, meant that people’s reality was unhappy towards the end. And, all the while, people longed for friends, fun, laughter and silliness again. And they knew it, too.
What you can do
• Be open to positive feelings. Depression and anxiety are real illnesses – just as real as diabetes or arthritis – and you owe it to yourself and to loved ones to get help. But, you can choose to look at things a certain way. So, at every opportunity, try to see the fun and positivity in everyday life.
• Do what makes your happy. Whether it’s a hobby or sport, volunteering at your local animal shelter or knitting, Lacrosse or sailing, see if you can fit in something you love for you.
• Surround yourself with positive people. Seek out the loved ones that make you happy and lift you. Always being around negativity can bring you down – and leave you there. Is there any dead wood you can cut? Are there any positive people you can make a point of seeing more?
• Just as negativity can bring you down, and acknowledging the good things in your life, the people and the things you love can lift you. Try it – every day, write down five things – people, pets, health, wealth, life and more that make you feel happy and grateful.
What’s your greatest regret so far?
What do want to achieve in your lifetime? What will you give yourself time to change?
The people looked after by Bronnie during their last few weeks on earth didn’t have the chance to beat their biggest regrets. But you do. And you can make a difference to your life and the life of others.