“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I realized it sooner.”
Two events that I had no control over mightily influenced how I live my life. Both happened when I was in my twenties. One was the sudden death of my best friend. The other was landing in the hospital with what turned out to be chronic kidney disease a few years later.
Woven in and out of my life since then is the awareness that happiness is a choice for those of us fortunate enough not to have to struggle for our existence.
Of course there are those days when I am angry, anxious or depressed about something or another. But if I remember that things like hot water coming out of the tap at my command is nothing short of a miracle, I eventually manage to find my happiness again.
What does this have to do with anything? Honestly I’m not sure, except that it’s what came to mind as I read this article by Bronnie Ware who worked for years in a hospice setting. In Regrets of the Dying, she shares what she learned from all the people she cared for in their last days. The common theme in all the regrets of the dying is the understanding that they had more power to live a happier life than they realized. Keep in mind as you read them that no one does anything perfectly. We all have our limitations and so can only be expected to do the best we can:
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.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realize 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…
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. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence…
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… 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.
Often they would not truly realize 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 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 that 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.
Photo courtesy Sofia Francesca Photography