What regrets one has on his dying bed can lend insights on what we should be focusing on in our lives today
Many of us rush around in our daily lives, never stopping for a moment to take a breath or appreciate the wonders around us. One of my friends Sally was a nurse in palliative care; Sally had always been one of these “zen” creatures who seemed to just take life one day at a time. It wasn’t until much later that I realised that her work dealing with the dying had a profound impact on how she viewed life, and death.
Sally’s experiences with the dying had helped her and me see life with new eyes. If you, like me, wonder what is truly important in our lives, take a minute to find out what are the top 5 regrets of the dying, and hope that we don’t make the same mistakes when our time is up.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. Live for yourself, and no one else
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”
Surprisingly, this was the most common regret of all. As people are counting down their last days and realise they no longer have the luxury of time, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled, and the opportunity to do the things you truly want to do is over. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
Action step: Make a list of the things you want to fulfil today. They do not have to be earth-shattering things, rather they could be something that you have always wanted to do but never had a chance to embark on them due to lack of time or lack of courage. Have you always wanted a go on the electric guitar or pick up French or travel to India? Make that list today and start setting your sights to turning some of these dreams into reality.
2. Don’t work so hard, stop and smell the roses
“I wish I didn’t work so hard”
Many males shared this sentiment on their dying beds. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Most of all, they regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. A portion of women also spoke of this regret, especially those were shared the breadwinning role in the family.
Action step: Simplify your life. By cutting down on the “wants” and focusing on just the “needs” as well as making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. Don’t bite your tongue. Express yourself.
“I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings”
It is amazing how many people would rather suppress their true feelings in order to keep the peace or avoid a confrontation. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result while others settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.
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. This is not about blowing your top, but rather it is about being true with your feelings and standing up for what you believe, even if it may be an unpopular decision at the time.
Action step: Keep a dairy of how you feel, and aim to live your life true to your feelings today. If there is someone you feel you have wronged, pick up the phone today to clear the air. There I no bigger regret than to not be able to say you are sorry to the people you have wronged.
4. Don’t lose touch with old friends
“I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends”
As we traverse the sands of time, we often lose touch with close friends. But as many lie on their dying beds, it is the memories they shared with
close friends that bring a smile or a tear to their eyes. Often they would not truly realise 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. When the end draws near, it is not money or achievements that you will hold dear, but people ad relationships. Don’t wait until it is too late to spend some time with the ones you love.
Action step: Plan to meet up with your friends on a regular basis. Facebook is a great way to stay in touch and to find out what is going on in the lives of those close to you. Don’t lose touch with your friends, they are a part of your past and should be an integral part of your present and hopefully future.
5. Happiness is a choice
“I wish that I had let myself be happier”
This may come as a surprise to some but many people do not realise that happiness is indeed a choice. Many people are stuck in old patterns and habits and fear change. They are scared of exploring the unknown, even of experiencing new things and new emotions, most of all, many are scared of letting themselves go and be truly happy. How many times have we declined an invitation for drinks or party with the excuse that we are tired or have to work the next day? How many times have we held ourselves back from being who we truly are because we are worried others may disapprove?
In fact, the higher people climb in life, the more restrictions they place on themselves as they try to live up to the image that others have of them. 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, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
Action step: Do one thing that makes you happy today. It can be as mundane as relaxing by the park bench and watching the world go by, ignoring the emails that are in your inbox for that precious hour. Or it could be catching up with an old friend during lunch, even if you have a desk full of work back in the office. Remember work never ends, but your time on earth will.