Recently I had to make a short trip to the UK but while the time in the UK may have been short the time to get there and back isn’t. It’s a full 24 hours of sitting around so I took the opportunity to check my list of books to read and selected Bronnie Ware’s “The top 5 regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing”. Bronnie Ware is an Australian who has lived in Sydney and Melbourne and during one phase of her life lasting around a decade she spent time caring for those near the end of their lives (palliative care). She would do 12 hour shifts looking after individuals, listening to their life stories; meeting family and friends as they visited; and honing her own philosophy.
So what are the five regrets?
Regret 1: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“Keeping up appearances” is the antipathy to the first regret. This regret is expressed by many people who have spent all their lives doing what is “expected” of them in order to fit in to the path they have fallen into. Bronnie relates that many of those reaching their final days look back and ask why they didn’t do the things that they wanted to do? With hindsight it no longer matters what others expect, they wish they had spent more time doing what they wanted to do.
Regret 2: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
Bronnie tells the story of a gentleman who put off retiring year after year. Eventually, after over a decade of waiting, he decides to retire… at the end of the next year – there is just one more deal he wants to complete. So his patient wife puts together a travel itinerary so that they could explore the world together as they had often discussed. But just four months later she starts to feel ill and within a few more months, he has retired to look after her in her last months. He missed out on a decade of travelling with his life partner who had supported him though out his life. It was too late to change.
Regret 3: I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many find expressing feelings hard but it can be cathartic and releasing. Once the true feelings have been expressed then everyone has chance to work with the reality rather than trying to second-guess or ignore unexpressed feelings. Many of those in their last months declared that they wished they had been more confident and forthright expressing their feelings to others. It’s hard to do but, in hindsight, what was there to lose?
Regret 4: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Friends are those people who know you best. They stick with you through the hard times. They remind you of who you are when you forget. As you travel through life and different environments new friends are made and old friends are lost. Lost because they move away, or have busy lives, or are in care homes. Many of the people Bronnie cared for wished that they had spent more time maintaining their friendships in order to have people who really know them to share their final years with.
Regret 5: I wish I had let myself be happier.
“Being happy is a choice.” I can choose to enjoy feeling the rain on my body as I take Sandy (our dog) for a walk at six in the morning; I can allow it to make me feel alive. On the other hand I can be miserable about getting wet and having to exercise the dog. The event is the same. I’m still walking the dog but in one case I’m happy and the other sad – that is my choice. Some people realise too late that they have the opportunity to control how they interpret the world. They realise they have a choice to be happier.
There is a lot more value in Bronnie’s book than I have covered here – examples illustrating the regrets but also about Bronnie’s life journey which is very different from most.
While the regrets are Bronnie’s words; the interpretation is mine. Like many things; acting on these regrets now and changing the way one looks at things and approach other people will make a real difference to one’s short time on this earth. It is great to be reminded of some of the key principles of life.