A few months ago Alek and I were driving home. I don’t remember where from, but I do remember that we were at 3300 South and I-15 when he suddenly turned to me and said, “I want you to know something: if for some reason I die tomorrow…or sometime soon…I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I am exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to be doing.”
It was so out of the blue and so not sad at all. It was lovely. I always want our relationship to feel that way. Everything in its right place.
So last week when I came across this article from The Guardian, it gave me pause. I totally made Alek read it while we were at dinner on Saturday so that we could talk about it. People probably thought we were one of THOSE couples, you know, the ones that are all awkward at restaurants, not talking to each other and looking at their phones. But I really wanted to make sure that we still felt the same way about dying, and, more importantly to check-in on where we were at, months after our conversation. If we had somehow veered off the “no regrets” path, we would start finding a way back.
I’m definitely going to work on working less…wait…you know what I mean.
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.”
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 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.”