I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about death. I’m middle-aged, after all, even though mentally and emotionally I still feel like I’m twenty-three. I read articles all the time on secrets for how to live to be a hundred and ten, even though they always say the same thing: Eat vegetables, nuts and seeds, exercise, eliminate stress, and be happy, and I think, Ok, I’ll do all those things once I retire, except by that time I know it’ll be too late and then I get stressed out over this and obsess over the fact that I could die any day now, so I eat French fries and chocolate to console myself, but then I’m not happy and I know I should work it off, but I don’t, because I feel too much like a bloated pig to exercise.

Healthy habits = 0 for me, but here’s the thing—how many people on their death bed wish they ate more veggies and omega-3s, or had tried a Zoomba class? NO ONE.

Here’s what some people did say were their biggest regrets in an article from The Guardian on Facebook.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

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 honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked 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.”

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.”

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize 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.”


So how are you doing on these?

Living my life my way has always been singlewritermom’s biggest challenge. I already wish I could have blocked out everyone else’s expectations for me and listened to my own drumbeat sooner. When I was a wee little lass, I skipped fourth grade, and excelled at learning foreign languages. Hence I became “the smart girl,” who everyone hoped would get a job at the United Nations one day (No pressure though). I then morphed into “the pretty girl,” who no doubt would grace thousands of magazine covers and travel the world. Except then I became “the sick girl,” and nobody knew what the hell to do with me, except continually ask, “Well, what the freak are you going to do with your life now?”

Sadly, it wasn’t until I hit forty-three that I could admit to being a writer without feeling like an imposter.

As for wishing I hadn’t worked so hard? I’m pretty sure I’d wish I’d been able to work harder. I’m specifically referring to exercise, but not for the health benefits to extend my life span. I would have loved to have seen my body with muscle definition—kinda like a body-builder type, but more Rachel Mclish, then Bev Francis. Just once would I have liked to have worn spandex without an oversized T-shirt covering my ass. Running a marathon would have been pretty cool, too, except for the training and the vomiting afterwards part, since everyone oohs and aahs over that accomplishment.

Feelings…Yeesh, I actually express my feelings too much. At too loud a decibel. A filter on my mouth probably would have helped at times, because the meds sure don’t. I suppose my regret would be that I hadn’t kept my big yap shut during times I should have. (Examples: “When are you due? Oops.” and “If I could get away with it, I’d kill you.”)

Perhaps I’ll wish I’d stayed in touch with friends better, but a few really good ones dumped me for being a little black rain cloud, thus resulting in my belief that friendships are transient and fickle in general, so scratch that one.

Now #5 is a tough one for me to wrap my mind around, because happiness isn’t a choice for say, the clinically depressed. And many people choose to forgo their own happiness for the sake of others (like staying in a bad marriage for the children, or inviting the senile mother-in-law to come live with them.) This is called self-sacrifice, and will no doubt get you into a heaven where chocolate mousse and margaritas are calorie-free. Is self-sacrifice a bad thing? Depends upon how miserable you end up. If you wind up grandchildren-less or paying for your children’s therapy, because the kids are so jacked-up from your less-than-stellar union, or you keep sending your MIL out to buy milk every day in the hope that she won’t come home, that’s a problem.

Notice how nobody wished they had had more sex, or tried bungee jumping? I would have thought at least a few would have wished for better sex, or sex while bungee jumping. But that’s just me…

What’s your greatest regret so far?

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Cie
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 00:02:02

    I brought the 5 regrets to my writing group tonight as a prompt for writing and the results were amazing and inspiring. 6 different but wonderful takes on the preciousness and opportunities of NOW. Exploring how we might live life more fully NOW. Thanks for bringing this forward Tiffany, and for your thoughts and experiences around it.


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