The Five Most Common "End of Life Regrets" & How to Change Them
I don’t know about you, but the past year has gotten me thinking hard about a lot of things I might not have paid a great deal of attention to in the past.
One of those things is about lost opportunities.
It might have been a missed opportunity for personal growth, a relationship we didn’t fight hard enough for, or a professional opportunity we declined because we didn’t believe enough in our capacity to succeed.
We may have later regretted it, wondering what would have happened if things had been different.
For over 500,000 people in our nation in the past year, potential opportunities of all kinds were cut short due to COVID-19. It didn’t matter how young or old they were, their hopes and dreams came to an abrupt and unexpected end.
It reminded me of the national best-selling book, The 5 Regrets of the Dying, by Bronnie Ware. As morose as this book sounds, it’s the complete opposite. It’s extremely positive and inspirational and I highly recommend you read it.
Bronnie is an Australian author who spent several decades as an in-home caregiver for hospice patients. Over the years of working with dying patients, she started to notice a trend in the types of things they would share with her in their final days.
They all had specific choices, actions, and/or limiting beliefs that they wished they could have changed if given a second opportunity.
Nearly all of them fell into five, simple categories and I’d like to share them with you because I think many of us can relate to one or more of them. I know I certainly did.
The first regret was “I wished I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself”.
How many of us have missed opportunities for happiness and well-being because we lived our lives based on pleasing others or made choices based on what we believed others expected of us?
Our society has created a whole set of expectations and norms that we are expected to follow, regardless of whether they truly reflect who we are as individuals.
They may be religious doctrine we grew up with or family expectations that we follow in a parent’s professional footsteps.
We may have instead wanted to express our creativity through the world of art, but were told it was much more sensible to become a Doctor or an engineer. For many women, it wasn’t too long ago that they were commonly expected to focus on raising a family and forfeit dreams of pursuing a profession of their own.
Whatever the expectation or norm was, it was considered “Priority One” and overruled anything we may have felt would be more personally fulfilling.
The second regret was “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”.
This one is high on own my personal list. I was raised with a very strong work ethic, but it hasn’t always turned out to be as positive a trait as it was originally meant to be.
There was a negative side to it too, because I frequently forgot where the off button was and literally drove my health into the ground. This led to long-term health issues that could have easily been avoided.
Working hard, in and of itself, is not a negative thing as long as there’s balance. If you play as hard as you work, then odds are that’s just how you roll and you enjoy pushing yourself from one goal to the next.
But, if it’s the only thing in your life and you have nothing to compensate that renews and rejuvenates you, then it can have negative and long-reaching effects on your health and mental frame of mind.
Our bodies weren’t meant to be pushed to the limit, day after day. We are at our best when we find balance in all aspects of our lives.
Some use work to fill voids created from intense emotional pain and suffering. Working unrealistic hours becomes the haven where we feel safest and can avoid the past or dealing with painful issues.
Obviously, this isn’t healthy and eventually, the pain will surface again in some fashion, usually when we least expect it. So, finding peace and happiness in other ways can mean less stress, better relationships, and more joy when you create healthier activities outside of the work environment.
The third regret is “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings”.
This is a really hard one for a lot of people and often goes hand in hand with the first regret of wishing they could have been truer to themselves.
If you were raised in a family environment that didn’t teach these skills from an early age, where feelings are honored and respectful expression encouraged, you know the kind of deep frustration this can create.
It shouldn’t be a surprise then, that being free to express your feelings is a key component in every form of healing therapy.
If you are the type of person that keeps things tamped down in some dark, recessed corner of your mind and heart, odds are, those emotions will surface in ways you never expected and it only lengthens and complicates the process of healing.
The fourth regret is “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends”.
We’ve all been there. Life gets busy, we move away for a better job, or our interests change and we lose touch with people we genuinely care about. Over time, we realize it’s been years since we reached out and we’re embarrassed that we let so much time go by.
Then, as time moves on, we lose each precious person, one by one, due to illnesses or a sudden accident, and the opportunity is gone.
This is one of the easiest regrets to change though because, with social media and other search tools, it’s easier now to find people than ever before.
The last regret is “I wish I let myself be happier”.
This is a regret based on choice.
As the sentence alludes to, often we’re the ones preventing ourselves from living a happier life because we let old belief systems keep us stuck in unhealthy patterns.
Each of us has the ability, the choice really, to create how we perceive the world and how we are living our lives. Do we focus more consistently on negative things or do we actively look each day for the gifts of abundance and joy that already surround us?
In all five of the regrets, Bronnie’s dying clients could clearly see beyond the insignificant and petty things, that had seemed so monumental and kept them from making better choices in their lives.
For those of us that are still among the living, their life lessons are now our opportunities to change and make better choices NOW so we aren’t faced with the same kinds of regrets at life’s end.
What kind of changes could YOU make right now that would make a meaningful difference in your life today? It’s worth taking some time to consider, don’t you think?
So, my friend, until next time….stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!