Friday, September 3, 2010

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

My mom sent me this email today (thanks Ma).  I've tried snopes'ing it.  No author.  Nothing.  But as I re-read it I suppose it doesn't matter who wrote it.  I'd like to give that person credit, but more important are the thoughts that the words provoke.

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 learned never to underestimate someones 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.

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 have 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.

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 is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

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.

What does a picture of a little girl praying have to do with this post?  I suppose it's because that after I read this, I felt like that little girl praying for a way to make sure I lived my life with no regrets.


Scrappy Girl said...

I love these thoughts...thanks for sharing them. My mind has been on death a little this evening. We lost a friend about a month ago to cancer and Dr. Hubby just had to go to her husband's house this evening and deliver bad news about his health. Heart breaking.

" Hit It......." said...

This was an awesome post! After experiencing a great loss in our family; I can't tell you how spot on it is. Relationships (friends and family) is what life is all about. I am going to share this. Thanks.

Loralee and the gang... said...

Thanks for that. I think I will have to paste it back into an email and send it to everyone I know!

Pedaling said...

great wisdom.

tammy said...

Great advice. Reminds me of that quote by Sister Hinckley:
“I don’t want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully, tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails. I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to scout camp. I want to be there with grass stains on my shoes from mowing Sister Schenk’s lawn. I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbor’s children. I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone’s garden. I want to be there with children’s sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder. I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived.”

Although I would rather have the shiny sports car than the station wagon ; )

Lara said...

I've been thinking a lot lately about how my fears hold me back from really living. This is an excellent post.

Missy said...

Love this and other's comments.

Cheeseboy said...

That surprises me a little bit - about the working hard. Did they mean working TOO MUCH? Because that would make more sense.

when I am working, I enjoy working hard. But I would never sacrifice time with family for work.

Heather said...

I really loved this post! It helped me think about things I need to improve and things that I already do! I also saw some of these regrets in my aunt who just passed. She was so scared and didn't want to leave her family with more bills. I feel that is why she requested to be cremated. She is a very unselfish person. Thanks for your comment on my Aunt Ruth post! I was hoping that my love for her would show through that post. That is why I did it. Your comment was short but perfect for me!

tiburon said...

What excellent thoughts! I for sure agree with the happiness one.