A couple of weeks ago, a Facebook friend posted an article by Bonnie Ware, blogger, songwriter and former palliative care nurse. The title of the article is Regrets of the Dying, and it is a list of the top five regrets that the dying patients she nursed reported time and time again during their last three to twelve weeks in hospice. I suspect that, unless you are truly faced with the impending mortality that comes from being in hospice, these types of lists can be inspiring but impossible to truly internalize, however, on this last blog post of 2011, these points give me pause as I look toward the new year. You can find the original article on Bonnie Ware’s blog, Inspiration & Chai, but here are the five top regrets as reported by her experiences.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
What strikes me about this list is how many of these points can be viewed through the perspective of coming to regret doing “what others expect of us” and it tells me how much we often alter our lives, in so many ways, to please others first, only to be faced with regret at the end of this whole thing. Of course, individuals who make choices based on their own desires and dreams can be deemed selfish at best– selfishness nearly always being construed negatively in our culture and judged rather harshly by the world at large– or crazy and reckless at worst. I would like to believe there is a balance that can be struck between helping others to feel happy and fulfilled and staying true to one’s own desires and dreams.
In listening to her patients, the big conclusion that Ware makes is that when you are on your deathbed, it is too late. Cliché quotes like “Live each day as if it were your last,” and “What would you do if you knew you would not fail?” support the notion of making each day count and living your authentic life, but how many of us can honestly look Death in the eye and say I’m going to really try to live a life without regret? It’s ironic, and tragic, that it is the moment when humans face face their own mortality that they most connect with the idea of their real selves.
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.
It’s a New Year just around the corner! It’s a time for reflection and resolution, a time for taking inventory of things and making plans, and it’s a time for ticking off another year with a feeling about it in your heart that only you know completely. This next New Year is fresh and full of possibilities for all of us and it’s no coincidence that, throughout the world, New Year’s traditions are steeped in themes of fortune and good luck. Being human is tricky business and we need all the good luck we can get… but, what will you do to really make it count?
Happy New Year, everyone! Good fortune and well wishes to you all.
TRY THIS WEEK: Think about what you would regret most and then live in a way as to make that regret never arrive.