I recently came across an article by a woman called Bronnie Ware who had worked for many years as a nurse in palliative care, working with people who are in the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. When faced with their own mortality and asked about any regrets they had, certain themes came to the surface again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
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.
2. I wish I didn’t work 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.
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.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
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.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits.
Reading this list I found it sobering and inspiring, and I could see many of those themes in my life. I would like to live a life that means, when I am on my death bed, I am not full of regrets, and, as the poet Mary Oliver says, I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.