What Regrets do the Dying Have?

Sara B

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”
Mahatma Gandhi

I have an obsession with reading and studying regrets in life. It has fascinated me since I was a kid.

As a nurse, I had the opportunity to ask my patients questions about regret and death. The conversations never started with me asking, yet it was an evolution.

One moment you ask them where they grew up, and the next, I would get an entire life story. Then it hit me, this was not only interesting for me, but it was healing and therapeutic for the patient.

Talking to people and hearing them became my thing. I was not the best nurse, but I was often the nurse they asked to have, and I would sit with them and talk as if we were old friends.

Where do we go when we die?
How do you know where we are going?
Why are so many afraid to talk about it?

I have noticed outside of my job; the subject became much harder to discuss. Why will only those who see the end speak on this subject?

Is the fear of the unknown?

We can not come back and tweet about it or do a video about it. Yet today, I would like to look at my life and reflect. Am I making the decisions that I will look back on my deathbed and wonder whether life was worth it.

I am halfway through my life; well, who knows, really, but let’s pretend.

A little self-reflection never hurt.

So first, what are the biggest regrets most people have? I took to google to answer this, and this is what I found.

Bronnie Ware, the author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. The five biggest regrets people have in their life are:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish I had let myself be happier.

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

I, too, noticed this in most of my patients. They would tell me they did what their parents expected of them. It was not a choice back in the day.

You did what they said or disowned. Times were different, yet some of us are still afraid to do what we want with our life. So many have expectations and go on to live a life they did not choose.

Not an option for me, and my family treated me differently when I went to college. I eventually went my own way and cut them out of my life. Too toxic to foster growth without guilt.

I have chosen to live the life I want because I realized this was something I would regret if I did not. It was a strong pull inside me to jump and see what happened. I would instead try and fail than not try at all.

“When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.” — Henry David Thoreau

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

A lot of my patients said the same men, in particular. They would miss so many things with the children due to work.

I have taken care of heart attack patients and will be working immediately after. They would say I wish I could stop, but I can’t. It became an addiction.

They would ignore the signs even after their bodies told them to slow down. The body will talk to you; if you listen, it can save your life; I have seen this many times. Ignored signs and they end up dead before their time.

The families say they refused to stop.

This one, I honestly am not sure. I am glad my younger self worked hard because it was the reason I could live the life I want now.

So I think it is good to work hard to achieve a goal but not lose sight of it. If the goal is to work hard to provide for your family, make sure you spend time with those you are working so hard for.

Don’t forget your why’s. Don’t forget to take time off and not always be preoccupied with work.

Even though I do not have a typical job, I still have to remind myself. To shut off and enjoy what I have.

“Many people die at twenty-five and aren’t buried until they are seventy-five.” — Benjamin Franklin

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

I have had patients tell me this as well. Especially the men. They used to say, as the man of the house, you did not show how you felt, which led to resentment, and anger.

Then caused problems within the family dynamic once the children were older. A heavy burden to carry. They always wished they said what they felt, good or bad.

I, too, have struggled with it. I come from a family that does not like to say what they feel. I used not to let anyone get close to me; I feared hurting them.

The first time I let someone hug me at work, all my co-workers clapped because I let them in. I still remember the girl saying, “ You let me hug you; that is a huge step.”

Since then, I have gotten much better and hugged almost everyone; this could also be the warmth of the Latino culture affecting me. If you meet me in person, the chances of me hugging you are very high.

So this one, I have surpassed and expressed my feelings vocally. I feel healthier and happier overcoming this fear.

“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.”
Laurie Halse Anderson

I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.

I feel that this is one that the older generation struggled with due to the lack of internet. Life gets busy, and it is a lot harder when you have to sit down to write a letter as it was in the old days.

I feel that I have the opposite problem. I had stayed in contact with someone I should have cut contact with long before. We are blessed to have an easier way to remain in touch.

I had also had a few patients tell me they lost contact when a friend moved, and they could have tried harder, but it was never the top regret I noticed in my nursing career.

“I’m not scared of dying, because I’m an atheist. I won’t even know I’m dead. Because I’ll be dead.” — Jim Jeffries

I wish I had let myself be happier.

I feel that this one goes with permitting me to express my feelings of regret. I have had many patients tell me this, yet as I said, it was always in alignment with allowing them to express feelings, as I feel happiness is an expression of emotion — a state of being.

I would also add joy to this, as I think joy is something felt deeper and not fleeting.

So many patients at the end of life wish they had just lightened up and enjoyed the moment. They were more present in the excitement of what was happening around them.

I struggled for years, not allowing myself to be happy. I was always afraid the other shoe would drop. Yet it never did, so now I have settled into allowing myself to express my feelings and feel them, not just happiness.

I think this is one of the biggest regrets I have noticed at the end of many patients’ lives.

The old way of thinking was that showing feeling is a sign of weakness. Yet, in this day and age, we see the opposite; showing how you feel is a sign of strength and will help you connect more to those around you.

“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.” — Laurie Halse Anderson

So I feel that these five regrets in the book are not ones I will have when I look back.

I also think reflecting on your lifetime will help you not have significant regrets at the end of your life, whenever that may be. I hope years from now.

So go out there, express how you feel, laugh, cry, and do that one thing you never thought was possible because it is. I would rather die trying than never sign up.

So as I compare the experienced I have had with my patients and reflect upon my life; I can see an evolution.

The regrets have changed and evolved, yet I would add a few to the list above, which I have written about in previous articles.

So choose your battles, your reasons for existing, and the love of you, choose the life you want. Sometimes we forget that there is no do-over button, no guess what death is like.

Youtube can not tell you, and neither can I nor my patients at the end of theirs.

Originally published here.

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I share stories from all over the world, what is happening locally and abroad. I have a background in being an ICU nurse, Holistic Health Coach, and Nomad and finding balance and living harmoniously within nature.

Pasadena, CA

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