“How many people are trapped in their everyday habits: part numb, part frightened, part indifferent? To have a better life we must keep choosing how we’re living.” — Albert Einstein
I dedicate this week’s column to Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who worked in palliative care taking care of patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. According to Ware, many of us leave this world wishing we’d done things differently — and not by working harder or making more money.
Ware wrote about the regrets of her patients on her blog, Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she eventually wrote a book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:
» 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 had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”
» 2. I wish I hadn’t worked 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.”
» 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.”
» 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 that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”
» 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 their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
Thank you, Bronnie Ware, for sharing the wisdom of your patients. Thank you to those beautiful souls who have reminded us that life is short, unpredictable and precious. It’s up to us to find the courage to change old patterns, stop people pleasing, express ourselves honestly and honor our friendships.
It’s up to us to find joy in everyday living and add a huge dose of silliness. It’s up to us to live now to ensure we have no regrets at the end. That is a powerful and lasting legacy to leave behind.