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The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

By Bronnie Ware on Wednesday February 3rd, 2016

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A nurse in end-of-life care shares the most common regrets of the dying

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind.

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

Alt text herePeople grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common 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.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

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.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

Alt text hereWe often regret the things we didn’t say

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. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

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 common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

Alt text hereMany don’t realise til the end that happiness is a choice

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.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Based around this article, Bronnie has released a full length book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

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Words By Bronnie Ware

Originally posted on bronnieware.com

 

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41 Comments on "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying"

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PJestin Trahan
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PJestin Trahan
I am 81 years old. I am still in fair health. None of those regrets apply to me. I never worked a day in my life. I earned a living by what I loved to do. It was not work. It was hard at times, but still very gratifying. I married someone who has been loved by me and who loves me to this day after knowing her for 60 years. I lived in the house I had dreamed to have with a nice plot to grow vegetables and flowers like I loved to do. I travelled throughout the USA… Read more »
gokhan
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gokhan

What a wonderful story. Well done. May I ask what it was that you have earned your living doing? Sounds amazing if it let you travel internationally so many times.. I’m really curious as you’ve mentioned it wasn’t work.. ☺

DM
Guest
DM

Marrying well helps!

Thomas
Guest
Thomas

Sir….I take my hat off to you. I hope you have many more…..

PJestin Trahan
Guest
PJestin Trahan

Thomas
Thank you kind sir. One of the perks of getting old and dependent on other people for some things, is that you find out how many nice people there are in the world, people who are kind but you would never know until they come to lend you a hand.

SaL
Guest
SaL

Were you a trust fund kid? Most of us need to work to enjoy the basics and any kind of travel- if there is any money left over to do so!

a small person
Guest
a small person
Different generation. I graduated college in the 90s and had multiple job offers in hand, was able to travel the world dirt cheap while working seasonally to sustain myself. My apartment, when I had one, was $325/ mo for a 1 bedroom. Baby boomers were still working, people died younger and the general population was healthier- decreasing costs all around. Plus, we were not yet borrowing so much money for war while lowering taxes. My children do not have the opportunities I had. The population is aging, a huge sector is no longer working and we are supporting them. the… Read more »
Lilli590
Guest
Lilli590
As a boomer myself it makes me sad all this resentment I hear. It seems like we have made a horrible world for our children whom we love dearly. There were fewer retirees when we were young as so many had died in two world wars. Should we have made a third to help the millennials? Our world was a free and happy place, or it felt that way, homes cost less as did cars and I remember the joy of bringing up my millennial babies and giving them everything they wanted. Thankfully my kids don’t blame me for the… Read more »
a small person
Guest
a small person
Lilli590, my generation is as responsible for the decline of our country as yours. We had it all. My children are not growing up in a country with as much opportunity as I had. That is just the truth and there is plenth of blame to go around. It is not resentment, it is acknowledgement of the facts. I could work and pay for my education in the 90s. As I complete my doctorate now, there is no way to do that. Education costs are sky-high, while wages have not increased in step with those costs. And that means it… Read more »
Lilli590
Guest
Lilli590

I am not a victim, never was. I left school at 15, not at all interested in education. Got a job and lived for pay day and the fun at the end of the shift. Got married had lovely kids. I didn’t make it bad and have no idea how to make it better. I loved being young, then having family. Still enjoy my life in rented accommodation with small pension and no car.
Only regrets I will have is not being kind to others as much as I should have.

Nagato no Kami
Guest
Nagato no Kami

The fact is, the Boomers ARE responsible for this and are the most spoiled, self-involved, self-aggrandizing generation we’ve produced. The fact you don’t seem to understand that the life you led is basically impossible by today’s economic conditions is emblematic of your generation.

The fact I have a hard time getting involved in causes because I am too disaffected and jaded to believe the world can change is emblematic of mine.

Aslynn
Guest
Aslynn

He didn’t say he didn’t work, he said he loved his chosen career so it didn’t feel like work. Not everyone is so lucky to find a way to make a living that they also enjoy, but it’s worth striving for.

Barb Quelch
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Barb Quelch

<3

Sunil
Guest
Sunil
People may have different perspectives on this article, there may be some calling it an outright tosh or what, HOWEVER, it’s a great article summarizing what needs to be done before regression takes its toll on human. At least I am dead certain that being true to oneself has been one essential thing disregarded by most, as feigning and pretension becomes part of their life under the assumption this will be curative of their dreams to have more wealth, good house and prosperous life (sycophancy to be precise). I was victim of this nasty feeling up until the realization hit… Read more »
Vicki Hamilton-Scharbach
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Vicki Hamilton-Scharbach

Well said Sunil.

PJestin Trahan
Guest
PJestin Trahan
I was a teacher. I earned my travels by sponsoring students on trips in the US, Canada, and Europe. I could never has traveled as much on my teacher’s salary so I found a way to go places and at the same time allowing students an opportunity to see the world. It was energy consuming and stressful at times, but I refuse to call it “work” because it was so fulfilling. In addition, I was able to afford a few trips with my wife and my children. Life has been good to me. Like the Sinatra song, God allowed me… Read more »
slartibartfast
Guest
slartibartfast

1, 2, 3 and 5 are all summed as “I wish I did whatever I wanted at the time” and #4 is an “I’m lonely when I die.” come on.

red rover
Guest
red rover

which means that most people didn’t do what they wanted to do, and many found themselves alone. Come on? Geez… what an ass.

Len DeMoss
Guest
Len DeMoss
I have lived my life with a personal philosophy of “the only regrets you have in life were the risks you are afraid to take”. I never wanted to look back on my life and say..”what if”. I’m 68 years old. I’ve run over 150 marathons and ultramarathons in my lfe. I don’t run anymore (heart says go, knee says no) and took up cycle touring and biking after I couldn’t run anymore. I’ve traveled the world on my bicycle. I’ve cycle toured through Eastern Europe and Turkey for 5 months, cycle toured SE Asia every year for 4 months… Read more »
LynnAnnRose Miles
Guest
LynnAnnRose Miles

I regret all my unskillful and ignorant thoughts and actions.

Mike Talley
Guest
Mike Talley
I have none of these regrets precisely because I took the hardest road of all. I faced all of my fears and stayed true to myself. I fought the church, the state and all of society to be myself, during a time when it was unpopular and dangerous to do so (1970’s-’80’s). Sometimes that meant that I marched in the street. Sometimes I had to punch a cop in the face to keep form being arrested just for being alive. Sometimes that meant fighting bashers outside a gay bar with a knife. Sometimes that meant family and friends turning their… Read more »
joe
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joe

Sicko Sod-O-Mite. Enjoy your eternity.

Jestin Trahan
Guest
Jestin Trahan

Joe, when did God die and left you in charge?

Raven Black
Guest
Raven Black

“Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
I hope never to go to a heaven whose occupants take joy from the imagined eternal suffering of others.

Maddie
Guest
Maddie

Religious people represent nothing but hate. Why would anyone want to spend eternity with you a holes.

Maddie
Guest
Maddie

You are awesome.

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