The observations of a palliative care nurse with whom the dying shared their innermost regrets inspired her to write a bestselling book on how to live a regret-free life.
Nurse records and shares the biggest regrets of the dying
For many years, Australian nurse Bronnie Ware worked in palliative care. Her patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared, as Ware was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. “People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. 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. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Source: Unsplash
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 realise 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 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.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. Source: Unsplash
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
This came from every male patient that Ware 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 she nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and 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. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Source: Unsplash/DrewGraham
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.
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.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Source: Unsplash/ChristopherCampbell
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. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier. Source: Unsplash/GabrielSilvério
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise 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.
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.
Can you live a life without regret? Yes! Source: Unsplash/HuyenNguyen
Here are 5 ways to live without regrets:
1. Follow your heart no matter what.
Many people regret not going after their dreams when they mull over their experiences in their life. Even if your heart wants something that seems unattainable or farfetched, follow it anyway. Take the path less traveled anyway because no one knows what you truly want except you. Your heart would never lie to you or lead you down the wrong path, so listen to it. Your intuition and subconscious are powerful tools for giving your life direction, so heed their call. This way, even if your plans don’t turn out as you expected, and you have to turn around and start over, at least you can say you gave your dreams a fair shot. At least you can say you faced down your fears and didn’t let them hold you back.
2. Live life on the edge with no worry of regrets.
Don’t worry so much about staying inside the lines and following the rules. Take risks sometimes, be daring, be a rebel. Life becomes much more meaningful and rewarding when you can leave behind inhibitions and embrace the wild side. At the end of your life, you will regret the things you didn’t do, not the things you did do. So, what do you have to lose? Buy a plane ticket to your favorite country, leave the job you hate, tell people you love them, and eat that slice of chocolate cake if you want it. Your life = your rules.
3. Let your true self shine through.
Too many people live shackled to other people’s opinions of them. They want to please everyone, so by attempting to do so, they disappoint themselves. Remember that you only have to worry about loving and pleasing yourself; the right people will manifest themselves when you stay true to your own heart. Whatever your message, don’t hold it back. Your existence tells a story, so what do you want to say to the world? How do you want to present yourself to the person looking back at you in the mirror? Make yourself proud, and live by your own truth. Nothing else matters but what you think about yourself.
4. Love as hard as you can, as often as you can.
If everyone gave love openly and freely, imagine how different our world would look. People wouldn’t live so much in fear, and they wouldn’t allow their walls to block out compassion and true love. It does take time and practice to become so vulnerable and willing to accept and give love, but with some dedication, you can master the idea of unconditional love. First of all, you have to accept and love yourself before you can do the same for others. When we talk about giving and receiving love, we also mean self-love and self-acceptance.
Many people fear what will happen when they wear their hearts on their sleeves, but even if someone breaks your heart, nothing feels worse than locking your love away and throwing away the key. Don’t be selfish with your love; the world could use much more of it.
5. Don’t worry about things beyond your control.
Don’t allow your mind to obsess over every little thing that could go wrong in life; come back to the present moment, and lose yourself in it. Anxiety occurs when we give our minds permission to run around wildly like a kid in a candy store; we must put our feet down and not allow this kind of behavior. Regrets will only destroy your happiness, and make you feel powerless and weak. You have ownership of your mind, body, and soul, so focus solely on developing yourself. Leave everything else alone, and you will live a much more peaceful, joyous life.
ABOUT BRONNIE WARE: Bronnie Ware is best known as the author of the best-selling memoir, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, which has been read by over a million people worldwide with translations in 29 languages. But Bronnie is far more than that. With courage for honesty and vulnerability in ways most people dream of but are terrified to truly allow, she is a powerful teacher of our times. Source: BronnieWare.com
To hear the stories that inspired this article and understand the full impact of regrets, read Bronnie’s book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. It is a memoir of her own life and how it was transformed through the regrets of the dying people she cared for. Join more than a million people who have read it so far and feel your own life transform. It is available in 32 languages. To truly ensure your own life is regret-free, become a student of Bronnie’s online program, Regret-Free and Loving It.
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