Top Five Regrets of the Dying and the Internal Dilemma About How to Live Life

Although this blog is about conflict, it is also about our internal conflicts and the dilemmas we face about how to live our lives. These too are conflicts of interest here. So I thought this article by Susie Steiner in today’s UK Guardian, a marvelous contribution to the dilemma ‘how should we live’ and a focus from the end of lives that might allow us to live better, happier lives and resolve our internal dilemmas more wisely. See also the comment stream answering the question she ends with at:

The top five regrets of the dying

A nurse has recorded the most common regrets of the dying, and among the tops ones is ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’. What would be your biggest regret if this was the last day of your life?

There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. A palliative nurse who has counselled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

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. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked 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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

What’s your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?


About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Processes, Marital and Relationship Conflict, PERSONAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION: CREATIVE STRATEGIES, Philosophy of Conflict, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Top Five Regrets of the Dying and the Internal Dilemma About How to Live Life

  1. Braimah Abdul Latif says:

    If there is life after death, then all the dying souls have not question themselves as the life they will have in the hereafter. All these things are hidden to the detriment of the nurse, but all what she spoke of are based on adorement of the world and its sanctities. It is swift for me to say that, as an extremist Islamic monothesis, i should die in the state of recitation of the Kalima sahada(Laa illaaha illalaahu): meaning there is no god worthy of worship but ALLAH.

    • @Braimah Adul Lafif. Up to a point Lord Copper, though as I doubt you have spent much time with the dying, I am more inclined to be interested in someone who has and can tell me what is typical of that process. But if you have empirical evidence to share because you have spent time with the dying, then please share it with us. As for what you think you will do at that time, well it is pretty speculative and time alone will tell. In my experience the faith of extremists is pretty brittle and not open to doubt because there is fear of doubt. And to me doubt is part of the essence of faith. Peace be with you.

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