Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who specialized in palliative care, that special calling of caring for the dying. She spent her professional life with people during the final three to twelve weeks of their lives. Over the years, she asked her patients about any regrets they had or what they might do differently. She eventually gathered those insights into a book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” Here they are, along with some comments of my own.
- “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” This was the regret most commonly expressed. Given my view of human nature, and the pervasive reality of human sinfulness, I have some concerns about living with unchecked impulses, which is how some may interpret being “true to myself.” However, I do “get” that it is easy to allow the preferences of others to eclipse our own dreams. Or to allow the fears of others to limit our own pursuits. Or to never stop and deeply reflect what we want to do in life that is most congruent with our deepest held values and beliefs.
- “I wish I didn’t work so much.” This was expressed by every male patient Ware encountered. We all know that anything good in life requires sacrifice. Any accomplished athlete, musician, scholar, teacher, or leader can attest to the value of hard work. However, balancing one’s pursuit of passions and gifts with the pursuit of significant relationships is elusive wisdom for many. Ware’s patients, who faithfully toiled on the treadmill of work, regretted key moments they had missed in their children’s lives and with their spouses.
- “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” People spend a lifetime hiding what they truly think and feel from loved ones. But conflict avoidance can come at a high cost. And while it’s true that some people have an issue with over-sharing, others suffer in silence, never risking the possibility that honesty could deepen and enrich a relationship in unexpected ways. Consider this: if sustaining a relationship requires you to hide deeply held values, how healthy is this relationship for you? “The truth shall set you free.”
- “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” It’s interesting how the tyranny of the urgent can crowd out what is truly important. Many work demanding jobs, keep active schedules, and pursue ambitious agendas. Nice friends don’t barge into our lives demanding that we spend time with them. But when we face our own mortality, busy schedules and ambitious agendas will fall to the wayside as the value of true and abiding friendships become readily apparent. Ware observes that “It all comes down to love and relationships in the end.” Are you regularly investing in the important relationships of your life?
- “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” I would love to know if this realization first dawned on people when the end drew near or if they already knew it but had forgotten it somewhere along the way. Are you a person who can laugh at the humor of life, at our shared humanity, even at your own foibles and flaws? Another way of thinking about this regret is this: Are you able to receive the grace of God in your life? A good sense of humor can be a tremendous aid in negotiating life’s ups and downs. Ware urges, “Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.” Wisdom indeed!