Regrets of the dying

Charles Cowling

Over on Inspiration and Chai Bronnie Ware describes how, working in palliative care, she would often find herself listening to people’s regrets – all the things they wished they had done in their lives. Some common themes emerged. This is her top five:

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 realise 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.

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.

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.

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise 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.

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.

Bronnie’s written a book based on her experiences. You can find it here.

8 thoughts on “Regrets of the dying

  1. Charles Cowling

    Thanks, K and J. They all make my list.

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling

    I’ll never drive a Ferrari,
    I don’t want to eat a cat;
    but if I learn that I’m enough
    I’ll be pleased about that.

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Kathryn Edwards

    Cook food to give to a homeless person.
    Spend a day in silence.
    Learn to make fire.

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling

    For my friend’s 50th year, she has been undertaking one untried activity every week for a year. With two weeks off for summer holidays.

    I decided that I would do the same, but rather than waiting the 2 years until I am fifty, I am going to start in the first week of January. I’d be miffed if I didn’t get to fifty and missed out. My first two adventures? Going to bingo and eating a pig’s trotter.

    Any ideas welcome.

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling

    Detachment and an appetite for life aren’t really in conflict – we all need to learn to seize the day and then let it go. If we are gathering rosebuds we still need to stop for long enough to find them. And age and life has its own way of slowing us down.

    There’s a poem – doggerel really – I heard once that goes:

    When I am old
    And especially in the grave
    Then it will be no trouble
    To behave…

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling

    I’m with you all the way on this one, GM. It’s all about letting go, not galloping stressily through bucket lists. My waking mantra these days is ‘It was fun’. Morning, not evening, mind.

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling

    ..and he followed up the comment with a big laugh, Ru, as I remember the film. Perhaps he realised that these things are relative? If anyone dies saying “no regrets, I did everything I wanted to, I’m completely fulfilled,” would we believe them?

    Interesting if potentially depressing topic! Maybe, as he slumped down, lead-filled, in that Chicago alleyway, John Dillinger was thinking “Godddam, wish I’d robbed more banks…”

    Asian meditative traditions teach us to accept where we are and to let go of such torturing thoughts. I mean, what use are they?

    It’s very Western, perhaps, to think more will-power would have resulted in better choices and a more fulfillled life.


    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    Rupert Callender

    John Betjeman’s was not enough sex.

    Charles Cowling

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