A good friend and I got together for lunch the other day, and in light of the Queen’s recent passing, we found ourselves talking about life and death. The conversation shifted to two common friends she had seen recently. Both ladies had been widowed over the last few years. My friend said widow A was completely at peace a year after her husband’s passing. Meanwhile, widow B remained angry and stuck in her grief four years after her husband had died.
“What do you think made A’s acceptance much easier than B’s?” I asked.
“Widow A had no regrets at all. B still has so many of them,” she said.
Regret always makes grief complicated. I’ve seen it often in my practice as a grief coach. Having known loss so early, and so many times in my life I’ve always strived to live a life of no regrets. I’m also a huge believer of leaving nothing unsaid, and of chasing dreams and making them come true.
Bronnie Ware is an Australian palliative care nurse who spent many years attending to patients during the last 12 weeks of their lives. She would often ask them about “any regrets they had or anything they would do differently.” Bronnie put up a blog where she shared the top regrets of the dying. It was read by three million people across the globe over the course of one year. She then put those lessons in a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Many people at the end of life say, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
This is the ﬁrst of the ﬁve regrets Ware talks about in her book. She encourages people to honor at least some of their dreams while they are still healthy, not before it’s too late.
Back in college, I wanted to take a degree in journalism or psychology but was dissuaded from doing so. In mid-life, and after my son died, I found the courage and the will to pursue those dreams once more. It’s never too late to make those dreams come true.
The second regret was “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
Ware shares that this was a regret expressed by every male patient she had attended to. Although this can be true of women, too. The pandemic has taught us this lesson well. It made us realize how life can change in a blink of an eye. We found a deeper appreciation for family, children, and loved ones. Work is important but it cannot be the be-all and end-all of life.
The third regret is “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” People will often keep their hurt feelings to themselves for fear of how the other person will respond or react to what they say. We can’t ever control how others will react, we can only control ourselves. Ware says, “In the end (when you are honest) 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.”
Fourth, “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Ware stresses in the ﬁnal weeks of life, all that remains are love and relationships. That is so true. Social media has made it easier for us to track down and reconnect with long lost friends. In the course of one’s lifetime, some friends can be lost and found, and lost again. What matters is that we make an effort to remain in touch. Those who are meant to stay, will stay.
Finally, the ﬁfth regret: “I wish I had let myself be happier” Many people remain stuck in old habits and patterns. Fear of change keeps us imprisoned. We pretend we are happy but in reality, we are not.
We deceive not only others, but more importantly, ourselves. Happiness is a choice that sometimes requires a leap of faith. We must learn to choose it more often while we are still healthy and have time.
I would love to hear from you. Please email me at [email protected]com.
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