Bronnie Ware is an inspiring and creative singer-songwriter from Australia. Using gentleness, honesty, and humour, Bronnie celebrates both the strength and vulnerability of human nature and she talks about deathbed regrets people face. Her message is a positive and inspiring one. Bronnie runs an online personal growth and songwriting course, writes a well-loved blog called Inspiration and Chai, and is the author of the full-length memoir, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
My experience working with near-death patients
For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die with various deathbed regrets. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives, when some incredibly special times were shared.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance.
Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them. When questioned about any deathbed regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. 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.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. 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 as one of the deathbed regrets.
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.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. 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.
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.
4. 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.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away.
People also want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. 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.
When you are on your deathbed facing your deathbed regrets, 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.
- If the top 5 regrets of dying people resonate with you, why wait until it is too late? What can you do, to address these issues NOW, when you are alive and well? Consider the possibility that your life may take a dramatic turn for the better if you did.
- Look back at your life and list down all the things that you always wished to do but haven’t been able to complete – your ‘bucket list’. What can you do about making it happen, without putting it off again?
- Some things in your life just happened and you can’t turn the clock back. How can you ‘let-go’ the regrets you may be carrying? What if you remind yourself that you did your very best under the circumstances and accept the outcome?
More from this series
|About the article
|Part 1: Death Unites Us All
|Traditional societies were closely connected with nature’s continuous cycles of birth-growth-decay-death, and marked these rites of passage with specific and well-established rituals and sacraments. Modern society seems to have lost this close contact with these natural cycles.
|Part 2: Five Stages of Grieving
|Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject of death, describes the four stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining and Depression that people pass through when coping with any severe loss, including their own death.
|Part 3: Cancer’s Five Shocks
|With cancer, there are five major ‘shocks’ that a person/ his family has to deal with.
|Part 4: What Actually Happens at the Time of Death
|Caring for a dying person, especially at home can be difficult and daunting.
|Part 5: Top Five Regrets of the Dying
|Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five.
|Part 6: How to Die Before You Die
|Perhaps the most exciting and empowering aspect of death is that it resets your clock to zero. By sharply ending what has gone before, it creates space for a new beginning – a rebirth of sorts.
|Part 7: Quotes
|We share some quotations (compiled by Arun Wakhlu) on the subject of Death
|Part 7: Video (When I Die)
|How do we approach death whilst embracing life? How can we change the conversation around death and palliative care for the terminally ill?