Thursday, September 9, 2010

five regrets of the dying

Today, Sarah Wilson posted this amazing piece by Australian blogger Bronnie, of Inspiration and Chai. Bronnie worked in palliative care for many years and collated a list of the most prevalent regrets shared by her patients upon their deathbed. All of these regrets are things that I have been thinking a lot about lately, while dreaming of my future. When I read this, my heart just sang (a purely selfish response, because it is also heart-breaking) and I felt validated, in a funny way.

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 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.

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 do 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, 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.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

The happiest household I know is my boyfriend Andy's. His mum, stepdad and four brothers live in a cosy place by the beach, which consists of two small houses joined together (it was originally built to house two best friends, an elderly woman and her priest). His mum is a freelance masseuse and his stepdad is leaving his job as a teacher at the end of the year to launch an online company and build boats. Inspirational quotes are written on a whiteboard in their kitchen daily. Their children are given the freedom to make mistakes and follow their hearts. Everybody contributes. It is not a life of luxury but the whole family are full of love, freedom and communal happiness.

I don't mean to say that their lifestyle choices are perfect. Everybody has to find their own happy place. I have just noticed that there is a new brand of success emerging, one which may be unfamiliar but is a whole lot more fulfilling and satisfying.

The brilliant Alain de Botton speaks about it here - a kinder, gentler philosophy of success:

"So what can I do now?" she spoke up a minute later.
"Nothing," I said. "Just think about what comes before words. You owe that to the dead. As time goes on, you'll understand. What lasts, lasts; what doesn't, doesn't. Time solves most things. And what time can't solve, you have to solve yourself. Is that too much to ask?"
"A little," she said, trying to smile.
"Well, of course it is," I said, trying to smile too.
"I doubt that this makes sense to most people. But I think I'm right. People die all the time. Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely. It's too easy not to make the effort, then weep and wring your hands after the person dies. Personally, I don't buy it."
Yuki leaned against the car door. "But that's real hard, isn't it?" she said.
"Real hard," I said. "But it's worth trying for."
— Haruki Murakami (Dance, Dance, Dance)


Destined For Now said...

I loved this post on Sarah's blog and I like the commentary you have added. Btw...the pink in your posts is hard to read (I usually scroll over it and highlight so I can see it).

Laura Valerie said...

Oh thank you for letting me know! We must have different screen resolutions. I'll try to figure out how to change it to a darker colour :) x

Anonymous said...

AMAZING post. Laura your blog is so inspiring.

Laura Valerie said...

Thank you so much lovely :) xx