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  • Writer's pictureSara Scherbakov-Coutts

What the Top Five Regrets of the Dying Can Teach Us

Bronnie Ware is a caregiver who worked with patients in palliative care for several years, often during the last 12 weeks of their lives. She found that in the final days of their lives, interesting emotions, profound change and meaningful insights were witnessed. So she decided to ask them all one question: "What is your biggest regret?"

She found that several themes surfaced over and over again. Here are the most common five, in reverse order:

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

Patients expressed that they didn't realize happiness was a choice. Many of them longed for silliness, for more play and laughter, rather than being stuck in old patterns and habits that kept them "content."

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

There were many deep regrets about not giving friends the time and effort they deserved. It's so common in our busy day to day lives to let friendships fall to the wayside, but in these people's final days, they discovered just how important old friendships were to them.

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

Many people reflected on their lives and found that they had suppressed their true feelings in order to keep the peace with others. In doing so, they may have settled for a mediocre existence or suppressed difficult emotions, which effected their mental and physical health in the long run. When we realize that illness can come from suppressed feelings, we realize how important it is to find the courage to express ourselves.

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

Every single male expressed this regret, as did some of the women, but the majority were from an older generation where women were not as much in the working class. They missed out on time with their partners, friends and children, as well as doing the things they loved. When we consider that the workforce has shifted drastically in recent years, it is not unreasonable to think that the majority of women will also hold this regret in their dying days.

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

This was the most common regret of all. During their final days, it was easy to reflect back on their lives and see how many dreams were left unfilled. Many people felt as though they made choices to please other people, or perhaps society, and in doing so did not honor themselves. The moment their health was lost, it was too late.

This post is not meant to be a bummer. Rather, with the new year just around the corner, some of us are already thinking about our new year resolutions and dreaming about what we'd like to make out of 2024.

I encourage you to use this list to set your intentions for the new year. Reverse engineer this list and use it to guide your future decisions.

For example, I suffer burnout probably 2-3x a year. Every time it happens I throw my hands up and say "I have to try and achieve more balance! I have to work less!" Then I proceed to go through the same pattern that led to burnout in the first place.

So, for one of my new year's resolutions I am booking off a day in my calendar at the end of every month for self-care (my co-worker actually did this and was the one who inspired me to do the same!) If I have a day booked off in advance, I'm less likely to overbook and overwork myself when the time comes. A full day to do whatever I need to take care of myself at that time, whether it's to get a massage, catch up on laundry or meal-prep some nourishing food for the week, I will actually have the space to do it.

Perhaps to you it will look like setting more time aside for your meaningful relationships, taking small steps to achieving a dream or drawing your own boundaries with work.

Or perhaps, this list will help you ask yourself the hard questions, like:

  • Is running on the endless hamster wheel of achievement and climbing the career ladder really the way I am meant to exist?

  • Are the things I am striving for based on what other people judge me for, or for what my heart truly desires?

  • Am I carrying anger or resentment in my heart? Do I have a way of expressing these emotions? (Either to the person who caused the emotional injury or through some other outlet, like meditation or counselling.)

Did this list inspire you? I'd love to hear how it might influence your next year, and hopefully the rest of your life! Share your resolutions with me.

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