My friend Miss Pamela Des Barres teaches writing workshops all over the world. She likes to present prompts, and at her last class here in Dripping Springs she presented this line from a Bob Dylan song and it reminded me of an article I read recently, written by Bonnie Ware, a hospice nurse. Ware analyses the five things people regret most on their death beds. Twenty years ago I would have passed on this article, even ten years ago but right now this minute I feel close to those people, the ones sharing their last regrets. I have more life behind me than ahead of me, and time and love feel scarce and precious. So I read on through her Hospice experience and it affected me. Below is her list:
The five things people regret on their death beds.
1. ” I wish I’d had the courage to live the life I wanted, instead if the one expected of me.”
This was the most common regret, by far. So many years we put one foot in front of the other, do what we need to do, what is expected of us, and we postpone our dreams for a later time. But later moves further and further away, and before we know it, it’s an unrealized dream. Sometimes we give up painting, or writing, or self-care, or reading trash novels, or woodworking, or dancing. We get busy and it feels selfish and a little silly to pursue interests and activities that generate no income and take time away from our other, more serious work. But apparently, no matter how far down we shove our desires, the need for these things never really goes away. It manifests as a regret at the end of our lives.
2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so much or so hard.”
This one came from every dying male patient. Every one. Maybe it’s a generational thing with those older males, that determination to pour an entire life into a career. Or maybe it’s a male thing, spending as much time as possible in pursuit of a manageable goal because any family needs besides financial needs are complicated and confusing. But regret over spending so much precious time on the work treadmill and not enough with kids or wives or nature or friends or hobbies stays with you, make no mistake.
3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
Politeness is part of our culture, so expressing how we really feel can come hard. But science proves bottling up feelings causes illness and disease. Staying with a job you hate, doing things you don’t believe are right will actually make you sick. And conversely, not telling peple you care about that you love them can hurt them and you. Patti Griffith wrote a thought provoking song called “Long Black Car”, about an old man coming back from burying his longtime wife. One haunting line from that song stays with you– “How hard would it have been to say some kinder words instead?”. Regrets, but too late, too late.
4. “I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.”
This nurse tried to help her patients get in touch with friends and relatives who had been meaningful in their lives, but people often change their names, move, die, so tracking them down was often futile. Those patients became frantic in their last days, scrambling unsuccessfully to contact those old friends one last time.
5. “I wish I’d allowed myself to be happier.”
This one was a shocker, because for so much of our lives we don’t even realize unhappiness can be a bad habit. We blame our country or family, or mates and waste so much time staying angry or irritated or dissatisfied. But folks at the end of their lives actually got it, that happiness was a choice and they didn’t choose it. And there was no time for do-overs.
So think about who you are now. Choose to be happy. Stay close to friends and tell the people in your life just how much they mean to you. Take time to connect with your environment and do those things that make you happy. Live the life you were meant to live. If our hour is later than we know shouldn’t our interactions be meaningful and deep and true? Or at least true to ourselves?