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The top five regrets of the dying, according to a palliative care nurse.

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A humble blog has come to my attention, written by an Australian woman who hopes to inspire with her writings. It’s not the sort of thing I usually stop to read. But this woman, Bronnie Ware, mentioned that she’d worked in palliative care for years, and to her astonishment, the final regrets of so many of her dying patients turned out to be all of a kind.

In the interest of assisting those still alive, she listed them. They are so confronting and ring so true, they ask to be shared. They were:

1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life expected of me by others.

This was the most common lament – that so many had been bound up in a falsely constructed sense of self, made up of family expectations, self-limitations, pressures and conventions so constraining that one’s true voice could be barely be heard above the din of others’ requirements. It is a bitterly sad lament. And the first mention of something so rarely discussed: that it takes real ‘‘courage’’ to live life well.

top 5 regrets of the dying

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

So the cliché is true: nobody ever said on their deathbed they wish they’d spent more time at the office. But you knew that already, didn’t you, and deep down you’ve known that for a while now. But will you have the guts to turn off the computer and go home to those who love you? Now?

Listen to Bec Sparrow and Robin Bailey discussing Bronnie Ware’s list of regrets, on The Well. Post continues after audio.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

For those of us who will emote and recount and expand and enlarge on our feelings at the slightest provocation, this one comes as a surprise: you mean there are people who can’t? What a psychological prison this must be. Many years ago, a rather worldly fellow who had feelings for me that I did not return, affectionately admonished me for disdaining him, telling me that I might not feel the same way, but I could not deny him the reality and the dignity of his feelings for me. I felt so small: feelings were not weaknesses, they required courage, optimism and respect.

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4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

The greatest fear of all – a lonely death. Those friends are but a phone call away; it is extraordinary how shared history and experiences can remake connections so quickly. And there is nothing to be lost in attempting to do so.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

It is the most overwhelming revelation to recognise that happiness is not a random fortune capriciously gifted to some and not others, but is within the grasp of almost anyone. Even those I know who struggle with mental illness and depression know that happiness can be a choice, that pleasure can be taken at will. And that is what this confronting list confirms for me – that the challenge of living well in this world, and growing into the adult you want to be, consists of being able to answer that question: what do I really want?

I know – death and regret is not a very uplifting topic to a column. But if fulfilment must truly begin with oneself, then these five end points seem to me like a great start.

This post first appeared in The Weekly Review and has been republished with permission from the author.

The Well is the podcast that talks about how to live a better, happier and more meaningful life. You can subscribe for free in iTunes or on the Mamamia Podcast App. Listen to Rebecca Sparrow and Robin Bailey explore death and dying, in the full episode below. 

Thanks to our brand partner Twinings and their new Twinings Feel Good Infusions Range.

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