Five Regrets of the Dying

The following inspirational email has been going around lately. The topic is one we practise in Buddhism – mindfulness of you own mortality.┬áSuch recollection is supposed to help order your priorities, not make you depressed. If you have ever faced your own death through unfortunate circumstance, you will know that it really makes you mindful, appreciative, and less prone to petty gripes.

[extra note : 2010 Dhamma Talk series in Bangkok is about to start]

Top Five Regrets of the Dying
By Bronnie Ware Platinum Quality Author

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who
had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was
with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I
learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some
changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as
expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually
acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they
departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do
differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most
common five:

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 have 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.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams
along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too
late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer
have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work 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.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the
way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And
by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open
to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

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

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people
may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking
honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and
healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship
from your life. Either way, you win.

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.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip.
But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical
details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial
affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds
the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more
for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill
and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and
relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks,
love and relationships.

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.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way
from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again,
long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely,
choose honestly. Choose happiness.

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