Now that title sounds a little depressing, but recently I came across a book called “The Top Five Regrets of Dying” by Bronnie Ware. I enjoy talking to the older generation, they always have some wisdom to share. But Bonnie had an experience with dying patients that had a massive impact on her life.
Bronnie spent many years in unfulfilling jobs, like many of us, but eventually found herself working in palliative care. During her time in this work she spent many hours with people at the end of their life. What they shared with her about their regrets completely changed her life.
While talking with her patients, Bronnie began to see common patterns from the information she was given. The life stories from each patient were very different, but common themes began to emerge about their regrets. Initially Bronnie recorded these regrets in her blog. However it gained so much popularity that she wrote her book, “The Top Five Regrets of Dying”.
Not all of her patients had regrets, however the ones who did affected Bronnie's life profoundly. She used this information to make hard decisions that changed her life, leading her to become a mum for the first time at 45, relocate back to where she grew up and achieve her dream of becoming a musician by releasing 2 albums.
Bronnie’s experience with her patients isn't meant to be depressing, but instead, inspiring. Her work in palliative care must have been extremely difficult, however she gained a lot of wisdom from her patients which she put into practice in her own life. The most common theme among her dying patients was regretting not living authentically, and Bronnie decided that she wouldn't have that regret at the end of her life. Here are the top five regrets of the dying:
1. I wish I had lived life true to myself and not how others expected me to live.
This was by far the most common regret. So many of Bronnie’s patients looked back and realised that they didn’t fulfill even half of their dreams and goals. And they realised it was due to their own choices. While Bronnie said each patient found peace at the end of their life, they wished that they could go back and cross everything off their bucket list. Don’t live for other people's dreams and expectations while yours are forgotten.
2. I wish I didn’t work so much.
This was a very common regret amongst the male patients Bronnie nursed. Due to the older generation, the men were often the main breadwinners so it was less common among the female patients. Her male patients deeply regretted spending the majority of their lives stuck on the treadmill of work existence. They felt bad about missing out on seeing their children grow up, and missing out on building a proper connection with their partners.
At the end of your life you won’t care about how much money you made, or how many cars you own. You will remember the people, connections, memories and experiences you had. Working to survive is something we all have to do, but becoming a workaholic makes you forget about, or miss out the relationships that are right in front of you.
3. I wish I had expressed my feelings more.
The third most common regret was that many of Bronnie’s patients wished that they had the courage to express their feelings more. Many repressed their feelings and held them back just to keep the peace with others. Some became bitter and resentful. Bottled up feelings can lead to mental and physical illness, which some patients believed they developed as a result.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch.
Many of Bronnie’s patients regretted losing contact with friends and family. They wished they hadn’t taken relationships for granted and missed their companionship. Many had gotten so caught up in their lives that they forgot to nurture their relationships. They regretted not giving their relationships the time that they needed.
5. I wish I had let myself be happy.
Many of Bronnie’s patients didn’t realised happiness was a choice until the end of their life. They were stuck in old patterns and habits, and continued to live in their comfort zone. This overflowed into their lives and emotions. They regretted having a fear of change and pretending to be someone they're not. They longed to bring silliness and laughter back into their lives.
I think the main take away from Bronnie’s patients is the live authentically, or live true to yourself. Forget what the world says about having to work hard, achieve this and that, buy more and more, act this way because that’s what’s expected.
Don’t neglect the people in your life who care about you, otherwise they won’t stick around. Express your feelings in a healthy way, especially males, it’s ok. Don’t forget about the real life experiences, the laughter, your own goals and dreams, and the simple pleasures of life; because that’s what’s important.
As I walked up to my thinking spot this morning, ready to enjoy my flat white in peace, I noticed three surfy baby boomers already there. My first thought was, “bummer, I wanted to be alone”. However, they immediately greeted me with friendly smiles and included me in their conversation. The generation gap didn’t seem to matter in the least.
They were talking about some of their friends and how their health has declined with age. I listened with interest as they began to provide their wisdom and life experience as to why the three of them were still so fit and healthy, and very obviously young at heart.
One member of this surfy baby boomer gang, let’s call him Bob (because I forgot his real name), told me that the secret to staying young and healthy is not only to remain physically fit, but to always do what excites you. Continue to try new things and get out of your comfort zone no matter how old you are.
Jim then piped in (name changed due to my poor memory), adding that good social connections are also important, don’t isolate yourself! Steve (not his real name, damn this memory of mine!), sat quietly nodding and agreeing with his gang of surfy baby boomers.
I think often we look at ageing as a bad thing, as a time to slow down and accept that your body will deteriorate; and that your best years are behind you. Bob, Jim and Steve gave me some valuable advice today, even if they didn’t realise how much of a positive affect their words had.
Getting older doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying life. It doesn’t mean that you will become frail and sick. Yes, illness may happen, but you can do a lot to reduce the risk. It’s not just about staying physically healthy. Your mindset has a massive impact on how you will age.
Bob, Jim and Steve all have a “young at heart” attitude even though they are in their 60’s. They continue to do what excites them (such as surfing), and approach life with child-like curiosity; yet they still manage to be productive adults with normal responsibilities. Why do so many of us lose our passion for life as we enter adulthood?
To quote Steve: “Remember that feeling when you were a kid? How everything excited you? How you wanted to try everything and anything new just for fun? Keep doing that!”
Maybe taking on their advice will help me to remember people’s names!