Regrets are as much a part of being human as happiness and sorrow. Yet we are encouraged to live life without regrets, to move on and learn. Oddly enough the regrets that seem to stick for me are disturbingly banal…the stunning dress I procrastinated over and eventually left in the quirky store in New York, but have thought about every year of my life since. Perhaps the bigger regrets are simply too big and scary so I’ve left them to lurk. Life is a series of choices and inevitably we will make some we are happy with and others we kick ourselves for. However, in our final weeks of life it appears we are blessed with a clarity of vision that we would be wise to consider when making our life choices.
Australian nurse Bronnie Ware cared for patients in the last 3- 12 weeks of their lives. in her blog Inspiration and Chai, she shared observations of her patients and eventually put them into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Ware asked her patients about any regrets they had or about things they would do differently. She noted that although every patient eventually found their peace, there were five regrets in particular that surfaced:
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… 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.”
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… 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.
” 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.”
Ware concludes that life is a choice.”Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.”