I spent years as a hospice volunteer and worked closely with people dying. I heard many regrets over the years from people closing in on their death, some unusual ones for sure. Here are a few common regrets people shared with me over the years:
I wish I’d had the courage to live my life, not the life others expected of me. Many folks spend a lifetime doing their best to make people around them happy. Many of us put to the back burner those things we really want to do, a life we really want to live, in order to live a life we think will gain us the approval of those important people around us – approval from Mom, Dad or our spouse and kids.
It is a common disappointment to get to the end of life only to discover we have run out of time and left behind us a dream life unlived.
I wish I didn’t work so hard. If I had a penny for each time I heard this one I would most certainly be a millionaire by now! All that time people spend working hard so that on retiring so that they will finally be free and able to do those things, which bring them happiness. One more year, a few more dollars in the retirement fund, then I can relax and enjoy my life. Often that extra year doesn’t arrive and the next few dollars no longer matter, our health is so poor we can no longer enjoy the dream. Delayed gratification – what a price to pay that is!
I wish I’d had the courage to express myself more fully. This speaks to how we hold ourselves back from really expressing ourselves in order to be part of a family, community, group or team. It is a painful recognition when we realize we didn’t give our fullest to our own life. We held our truest expression back because we were afraid to be left alone, put down or ridiculed.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends and family. Many of us get so busy in life we tend to focus on what is right in front of us often times excluding friends and family. It is most often recognized at the end of life that relationships are all that really mattered, especially those with friends and family and we regret all the time we spent doing other things. Many of us realize at the end of life that it is only these relationships that we take with us when we die. All other things we leave behind. Oftentimes at the end of life we haven’t the time or capacity to get in touch with all those folks that are important to us.
I wish that I had expressed the happiness I felt. This is a sneaky one and yet very common. It links to the regret many of us have that we didn’t express ourselves fully. Most of us carry around the belief that we don’t deserve to be happy, even though we feel it, “ I’m so thrilled to be alive.” Most of us hold it back, especially when others around us aren’t so happy. At the end of life we begin to understand that we were happy all along and regret deeply that we didn’t share our happiness with those close to us.
These regrets are real for the grieving person and can be called wisdom if those of us receiving them open to it in this way. These ’lessons from the death bed’ can be taken by those of us surviving the death as a recipe for a full life. All we need to do is replace ‘I wish I had’ with the starting phrase:
I will …