When you die, will it be full of regret at how you have lived your life? Will you have dreams unfulfilled – or pop off knowing you have lived your life to the full? May sound macabre, but death is one of the few certainties in life. However, you’d think we’ve forgotten we’re mortal the way we allow life to slip away.
The thoughts of those who know they have very limited time left have often been wake up calls to the rest of us. I discussed Randy Pausch’s last lecture a couple of years ago – now over 14 million views on YouTube! His main message was
“never stop dreaming, never stop trying to achieve those dreams”
There has been other work about the great truths to be found in the last moments of life, notably “Seize the Day” (formerly titled “Intimate Death”) by Marie de Hennezel. From her work as a psychologist in palliative care her message is very much about making the most of life while we have it – not forgetting our mortality.
“You just need to realise that life is precious, and remember that every day.”
Regrets of the Dying
I have recently come across a blog written by someone else who has worked in palliative care. She also wrote down and collected the dying thoughts of those she cared for. And now the author, Bonnie Ware, has also published a book based around an article on her site:- Regrets of the Dying.
Whilst its well worth visiting her blog and reading the article, the 5 regrets she highlights are as follows:-
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Apparently this was the most common regret of all. People died knowing it was choices they had made, rather than “circumstances” that had let these dreams slip by. Once your health starts to fade, it becomes increasingly difficult to catch up:-
“Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Feelings are usually suppressed to keep the peace with 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.
Many had let golder friendships slip over the years, caught up in their own lives:-
“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.
Not realising till it was too late that happiness was an option; Stuck in their comfort zone, letting fear of change prevent them from living the life they truly desired. With the ultimate self confidence booster:-
“When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind.”
But before you spend £20 on the book…
Some of these ideas do seem rather cliched and could have been used to close an episode of Desperate Housewives. And do the dying have any special “clarity of vision” – especially if they are taking high doses of pain killers?
It could be argued that the advice is both selfish and goes against any attempt at stability in your life. Don’t bother working hard (be lazy – why bother with a career); Say what you think (who cares who you hurt or offend); Cling onto all friends (which takes some maintenance, other things may be more important); Do what you want (which may mean abandoning family, friends and other structures around you); Be happy (not in itself an achievable goal).
These regrets are also formed with the benefit of hindsight. And in some ways a regret is another way of framing “I should have...” or “shouldn’t have“, rather than accepting that throughout life we make choices. We will all make mistakes, suffer setbacks and failures, but that’s all part of life’s rich tapestry…
And whilst we’re having regrets…
I haven’t touched on the ethical issues relating to this article and book, nor how valid and reliable the “data” is. My wife has worked in palliative care for 25 years and says she would be struck off for such an enterprise. And the blog gives no indication of how many subjects or what sort of cross section of society they represented.
But whatever the criticisms, the joy of such articles and books is it makes you think and reflect. Question your own life, and in particular reminds you of your mortality.
I frequently reflect on what I have to be thankful for, starting with so many things we take for granted such as living in a safe, stable country with sufficient food and water. I’m sure when my time comes its these sort of thoughts I’ll treasure – the regrets won’t get a look in. How about you?