The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

A nurse has recorded the most common regrets of the dying, and among the top is “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard!”. There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. What would your biggest regret be, if this was your last day of life? 

A palliative nurse, who has counselled the dying in their last days, has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives.

[bctt tweet=”Among the top, from men in particular, is – I wish I hadn’t worked so hard! #regret” username=”BobBrotchie”]

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.

Bronnie 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.”

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Bronnie:

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.”

What’s your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?

About the author
Bob Brotchie

Bob Brotchie is a counsellor, life coach and creator of Conscious Living by Design™. He writes for Anglia Counselling, is featured on various other websites and introduces us to many guest writers all covering topics related to mental health and wellbeing.

Bob provides bespoke counselling services to clients in the privacy and comfort of a truly welcoming environment at his Anglia Counselling company office, located near Newmarket in Suffolk, England. Bob also provides professional online counselling, for local, national, and international clients. The therapeutic models offered are bespoke to the client’s needs, especially those in receipt of 'childhood emotional neglect' (CEN), whilst integrating a mindful approach to psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) principles. For clients experiencing trauma and/or phobia, Bob offers EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).

2 Comments

  1. Tim

    I’ve often seen this, but this is the first time I’ve answered.

    I regret the need to survive in my teenage years led me to make decisions that influenced my life in ways I did not want. This meant I did not express my feelings, and I was not true to myself.

    It does not mean I would be happier. I would have had different highs, different lows, might be dead already or might live longer than I am set to do today.

    The regrets of the dying are not as simple as the cataloguing scheme would have you believe. A major regret at my death is that I will be surrounded by those who remain of my nearest and dearest, but will remain estranged from the boy I fell in love with (though he did not with me) in 1965 when we were both 13. Dying without knowing for certain something important to me will feel hard, and I know he will either predecease me or will refuse to come to my deathbed.

    So, what will I change?

    Without upsetting those I love, how can I change a thing? Their feelings are important to me, and upsetting them will be stressful. I shall be able to die ‘happy enough’.

    • Thank you for sharing, Tim. I am grateful that this post does provoke reflection, whilst very much acknowledging that the thoughts arrived at are likely unique for each of us and can easily be respected.
      Best wishes.
      Bob.

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The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

by Bob Brotchie time to read: 2 min
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