Thoughts on the Regrets of the Dying

A few months ago, I read an article titled, Top 5 Regrets of the Dying (you can read it here).

The article was about a book by Bronnie Ware who is a writer and songwriter who spent several years caring for dying people in their homes.

The sentiments in the article touched me even though I am a strong believer that you shouldn’t live your life by having regrets.  I accept the fact that I am imperfect and have made mistakes in my life.  I don’t think you can get to my age and have lived a full life if you haven’t made a few mistakes along the way.

That being said, I also think there is a lot to be learned from this list.  Life is a journey, and we must make adjustments along the way – adjustments for learning new things, for the bumps in the road, and for all that life throws at you.

Here is Bronnie’s list along with my thoughts on them – The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying:

1.  I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Bronnie stated that this was the most common regret of all, and I can see why.  I think women, especially, are taught by our culture to think and care more for others than for themselves.  Many of us, me included, strive to be the son or daughter who lives up to the expectations of our parents.  We want to be the perfect boyfriend / girlfriend or husband / wife.  We try to live up to mostly unrealistic ideals of how to look a certain way, act a certain way, be a certain way.  To achieve this, some of us spend a lot of our lives capitulating to the desires of others.

Either way, most of us are not being our authentic selves.  The author is not suggesting that you become a rebel or a criminal or trample on other people to become your true self, but it is okay to be the person that you want to be.

A few years ago, I made some life changes.  I quit working.  Yes, just as my children were leaving home, I quit working.  I know that I am very blessed to have this opportunity, and I never really considered it retiring, but everyone else is calling it that so there you go.  I also grew my hair out to its natural color which is very nearly 100% white.  Yes, people do judge you by your hair color.  But, I do not consider myself to be your typical white-haired old lady.  For instance, I embrace technology, and kids with piercings and tattoos do not scare me.

I spend a lot of time in reflection.  I am starting to accept myself for who I am – the sum of my experiences.  And I am making no apologies.  Heck, I feel like I’m turning into 55-year-old activist.  You know those old ladies who no longer have filters, the ones who say what they think and do what they want.  Yep, I’m turning into one of those.  And I wish DSH would stop shushing me.

2.  I wish I didn’t work so hard.

Apparently, this particular regret was most commonly expressed by men.  I assume, as those of us women who were “work outside the home” moms come to the end of our lives, that this regret will even itself out among men and women, but I can safely say that DSH and I already know that this is true about us.

We spent our younger married lives working very hard.  Too hard.  We both have large doses of Puritan work ethic in our DNA.  We worried about finances and the future.  Too much.  We were trying to make ends meet and save money and raise young children.  By our own admission, our lives, our priorities were out of balance.

We are working on that.  It is a work in progress.

3.  I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Bronnie stated that “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others.”

Boy, does this ring true for me.  I have spent my life being risk averse and avoiding conflict and suppressing my own feelings and opinions to build up others.

A few years ago, I decided to start standing up for myself.  I decided to voice my opinions.  I do not personally attack people or resort to name calling.  I try to be thoughtful about disagreeing with people or when I support or voice an opinion, and I think most people who know me well know where I stand in my beliefs.

Bronnie stated, “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.”

I have, apparently, lost a few unhealthy relationships from my life.  Sometimes this doesn’t feel like a “win” to me, but I’m working on accepting the losses as opportunities to fill my life with other more positive relationships.

4.  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

This will never be one of my regrets.  I am blessed to have many “new” and “old” friends.  Most of them are other women, and I treasure each and every one.

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

Ouch.  This one hit home for me.  Some people refer to Catholic guilt – I have lived my life with a large dose of it.  The pastor who counseled DSH and me when we got our annulments talked about releasing the guilt by confessing it.  God forgives you.  If God can forgive you, then you should be able to forgive yourself.  By not forgiving yourself, you are snubbing your nose at God.  You don’t want to snub your nose at God.

I have often reveled in my own angst while DSH revels in being happy.  I think being happy comes easier for some people than for other people.  One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was “Be happy every day.”  Every morning I tell myself that I am going to be happy this day, and it is mostly working.

Bronner says that you shouldn’t wait until you are on your deathbed to choose happiness.  Sounds like really good advice to me.

If you want to learn more about this book or the author, you can visit Bronnie’s official website at www.bronnieware.com or her blog at www.inspirationandchai.com.

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