Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

I want to share a short article I read years ago that I credit with giving me the small nudge that led to some huge lifestyle changes. As we have grown through the different stages of our life, I think every one of us has at some point encountered an individual much older and more experienced than ourselves who imparted advice starting with the words “If I could do it all over again…” or “If I were you…” or “If I knew then what I know now…” or perhaps, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Whether it be from our parents, grandparents, teachers, or important/random people we cross paths with; these statements were almost always followed up with some regret of wishful thinking, or an implore for us to perhaps do something differently than the conventionally accepted way. How many times did we let the advice go in one ear and out the other?

 

I am only in my late twenties right now, but I think back to endless conversations with my parents and elders when they tried to impart just this kind of advice on me when I was in my teens or even early twenties. I never listened or truly heeded their words back then, and in a funny way, I don’t think they expected me too. It seems to be somewhat of a vicious cycle, because so many people go through their lives doing things the exact same way as those who came before them, despite seasoned advice. Anyways, as my years progressed I found myself regretting decisions I made that went against the direct advice of those who’d lived those same decisions earlier in their lives. I saw the pattern. Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it in many different capacities.

 

I can’t imagine anyone being more credible in the “regret department” than those facing the end of their lives. When I first read this article, I promised myself I would do my best not repeat these seemingly recurring mistakes. So far I can say I’ve done a good job. It’s never too late to make a change, and I think just about anyone still alive could glean something from this article…

 

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

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 realize 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.”


 

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11 Comments

  1. I’m 72 & I wish I were young enough to though hike the AT…so instead I plan to hike all 1,200 miles of the Ice Age Trail in WIsconsin. We do trail maintenance on this trail in the Chippewa Moraine section. Thanks to Kyle for taking me on his journey on the AT. I appreciate the fact that you care enough to share what you’ve learned and are authentic with who you are. Loved your book & will reread it when I no longer can put one foot in front of the other & have to hang up the shoes! I’m not ready to do that yet! Thanks to you, Kyle!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words and for reaching out Sue 🙂

      The Ice Age Trail is on my radar for sure. As far as being too old, I’m guessing you didn’t hear about the 82 year old man named Dale Sanders who just completed the AT and set the record as the oldest thru hiker. It might be more doable than you think 😉

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      1. Wow! Never say never! It is a dream of mine…I’ll keep practicing on the Superior Hiking Trail too…it’s a beauty. Will be waiting for your adventure in Colorado…I use to live in Boulder!

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  2. I work as an ICU nurse. I have read this article before, and I love it. My profession has changed my lifestyle to a “less is more” way of life. As I’m sure you can relate, many people react negatively to my “I’m not about working my life away” choices. Or there are always the ones who say “you’re so lucky”. Like I fell into good fortune instead of making a conscientious decision. Nonetheless, I love reading your blog, and I hope your influence inspires many others to make today Day 1 instead of continuing to say One Day..

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    1. I can absolutely relate to what you’re saying, Candice. People don’t realize just how in control of their lives they really are. Thank you for the kind words and for reaching out 🙂

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  3. I was a hospice nurse for 8 years and these all ring very true. This a great reminder of what is truly important. Commitments to family and to work will prohibit me from being a thru hiker but I am planning my first section hike of the AT in May and my bucket list trip to the JMT hopefully the following year. You are a fantastic writer and I sincerely appreciate being able to view the world through your eyes. Thanks for all your thoughts and inspiration! (Can’t wait for the PCT book!)

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    1. Thank you Barb!

      I should have the PCT book out by March next year! What section are you planning on? Also, the JMT is going to blow you away 🙂

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  4. Good One, Kyle!……I was fortunate enough to have had parents who not only worked hard but played hard all their lives!……I learned a wonderful work ethic from them and I also learned to live in the moment and enjoy it as much as possible regardless of any pitfalls along the way!……I remember at the age of 15 when Dad fell 62 feet out of a tree he was working in and was critical for months……They said he would be lucky to ever walk again……Just over two years later he was climbing trees again in a business he ran for 54 years…..I remember the sacrifices Mom made keeping our family together and the help my brother, Dennis, and I were to both of them…..True grit all around!……I can truly say now at the age of 70 that I have few regrets…..My life has taught me to be satisfied with what I have and to be grateful for it!

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  5. You are a wise man, especially for your young age. I suspect that has been nurtured by your long hikes alone in the woods. Thank your or the reminder, always good to remember. Hike on!

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  6. I have lived the last 25 years of my with the willingness to make postive changes in my life mentally, physically and spiritually and now surrounding myself with those who allow my journey to continue….have to say now that age is not a factor in who we can learn from…I am well over twice your age and seem to be inspired by most everything you write about…keep on your journey….it is a good one!!!

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