February 20, 2014

Top Five Regrets of Dying People

Call me weird: I don’t mind talking about death and dying. In fact, I’m convinced it’s something a lot more of us should do.

I’m happy with the life I’m living. I also want to be sure I get – as much as I can control it, anyway – the death I want.

I'm sure I can do more, but I’ve made certain my family, my healthcare team, my domestic partners, and my estate executor clearly understand what I want and DO NOT WANT at the end. It is the quality of my life that matters – my happiness, my contentment, my pleasure in family and friends – and NOT the length of my days on the planet.

I’ve offered tips on how to initiate those important, emotional, and – for most people – difficult conversations about end-of-life. I shudder to imagine my family, tortured by questions about my care while I’m still “alive” but not able to counsel them.

Trolling the internet, I found an interesting article on AARP’s website by Bronnie Ware. A palliative care worker for many years – she helps people who have returned home to die (where most of us want to die) -- Bonnie describes the five most common regrets she hears people discuss during the time she shares with them – typically the last three to 12 weeks of their lives.

She even wrote a book – The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, now available in 27 different languages -- about her observations. Here is that short list. We all might be well advised --in the time that remains – to take a good look.

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 realize 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 not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they’d made, or not made.It’s important to try to honor at least some of your dreams along the way. It’s too late once you lose your health. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

2). I wish I didn't work so hard.
This came from every male patient 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 spacein your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.Next page: How you can live a happier life right now.

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 realize 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 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.

5). I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize 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 themselves, 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 and choose honestly. Choose happiness.

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