Friday, June 21, 2013

Live Life Avoiding Regrets

A little over a year ago, Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse working with patients in the last 3 to 12 weeks of their lives posted a list of her patients’ regrets on her blog (Inspiration and Chai). She later wrote a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying--A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. I just heard a story about the list today (where have I been???).

After reading through the list, I realized that the regrets are ones I've dedicated myself to avoiding in recent years. I really do believe happiness is a choice--a worthwhile choice, even when it's not easy.

If I had to evaluate my life right now, I'd say my biggest regret would be working too hard. When you say that as a young person, people jump down your throat and assume you're lazy. When you say it on your death bed after a full life, it (hopefully) gives younger people some perspective. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I put work first for many years. To a certain extent, I still do. A prime example is that tonight, one of Ash's films is nominated in a film festival. I am going to the ceremony but we were trying to figure out if I could get there on time (it starts at 8 pm) or if work would interfere. It really shouldn't be a question. It's a big moment for my husband and being there is more important that whatever I could do at work by staying an extra hour or so. Seriously, almost anything can wait until tomorrow. If it can't, it can wait until after the ceremony. It's all about priorities. Actually, combating all of these regrets is about priorities. We have to choose to be happy. We have to choose to stand in our truth and we have to choose life over work. We have to choose to love out loud and not bottle our emotions. We have to value those that are here while we still have them. Life is short, choose happiness and move forward.

In case you haven't seen the list, here are the top 5 regrets and Ware's reaction to each.

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.

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