We all know that no one is going to live in this lifetime forever. Sooner or later, we all need to face that, for better or worse, our lives here on earth will inevitably come to an end. It’s kind of like the “pink elephant in the room” expression indicating that we are sometimes uncomfortable discussing the obvious.
Ironically, we tend to become most clear about what really matters in life at the end of our lives, not when we are born. It really is a paradox: Although we have to live life going forward, we can best understand life by looking back. This fact is evident in that many people, when nearing death, are gifted with a phenomenal clairvoyant retroactive vision in which they totally comprehend the parts of life which were most important to them.
So how about if we reverse the sequence and tap into the wisdom that people have shared at the end of their lives and use these insights to guide us to live our lives to the fullest in present time?
Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai.
“When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”
Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:
The most common of all was:
1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the one others expected of me. Most had not honored even half of their dreams. She found that they went to their death realizing that this was a choice they had made, and they deeply regretted having never really lived their dreams, or even part of them.
2. I wish that I hadn’t worked so hard. This came from many male patients she had nursed. They regretted missing their children growing up and the companionship of their spouse or partner. She primarily worked with elderly men because this generation didn’t have as many women who were breadwinners. All of the men deeply regretted spending so much time “on the treadmill” of work and giving in to the drive to get ahead. As I suspected, no one ever said on their death bed, “I only wish I had worked harder.”
3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings. Many had repressed their own feelings to keep the peace, either with a spouse or family members. As a result, they settled for a mediocre life and didn’t realize their own potential. She said many had developed illnesses related to carrying the resentment and bitterness for so many years.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. They would realize, too late, the importance of close friendships and in the last stages of life didn’t have the time to track them down to tell them how sorry they were. They were caught up in their own lives and let important friendships slip and realized too late how deeply they regretted this. She observed that love and relationships were ultimately the only thing that mattered to all of her patients in the end.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier. She said this was surprisingly common and that many did not realize that happiness is a choice they could have made all along. Because of their fear of change, they pretended to themselves and others that they were content. Deep inside they longed to really belly laugh and be silly and not care what others thought. On their deathbed, what others thought was not important.
I would add two more very important suggestions for living life to the fullest measure:
1. Forgive yourself for any ‘mistakes’ you think you have made.
When you forgive yourself, you can forgive everyone else, and nothing creates more peace than forgiveness.
2. Say, “I love you” to as many people as you can – Expressing your love is the greatest gift you can ever give to yourself and to everyone you meet.
Having read this blog, we have come full cycle back to the question in the beginning:
“How would you change your life now if you knew you had only one more year to live?
I welcome your insights.
Love and Light