Steve Jobs, Christopher Hitchens, Socrates – three passings in late 2011 of swashbuckling performers. When someone goes “before their time” there is often reflection on the meaning of live, and what a well-lived life, purpose-inspired might look like. I found some deep meaning in a recent post by Bronnie Ware, an Australian singer songwriter who worked for many years in palliative care.
She observed how each patient experienced tremendous emotional growth in the final stages of their life – a mix of denial, fear, anger, remorse, and eventually acceptance. She found that every single patient found their peace before they departed. 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 she found.
- 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. 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.
- I wish I didn't work so hard. This came from every male patient that she nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. They deeply regretted spending so much of their lives working.
- 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.
- 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. 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 deseved.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content.
She has now written a book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. Her key message: When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. Life is a choice. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
As Bob Dylan said “He not busy being born is busy dying.”