A: First, please accept my condolences. I pray that you and your family will find peace and even joy in the good memories of your dear ones and in the love that never expires.
Instead of my advice, let’s go to the experts: Those near the end of their lives. Let’s examine the Top 5 Regrets of The Dying, as observed by palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware who wrote a book by the same name.
• I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
It’s interesting that the most common regret of all had to do with not being your real self. It’s easy to fall into the snare of others’ expectations and desires and neglect your own dreams. But on your deathbed you realize your choices have resulted in an unfulfilled life. Wow, that would bite big-time.
• I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. Ware says that every male patient she nursed expressed this regret. Sadly, they believed they were just doing what they were supposed to do: Be the breadwinner and provide for their families. But in those final days, the multitude of things they missed out on came into vivid focus.
• I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others,” says Ware in an article from The Guardian. “As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses related to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
• I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. The years roll along, and in the hubbub of family and work and other priorities, we let precious friendships fade. The dying warn us to nurture and sustain these meaningful connections. Imagine lying in the hospital bed with no way to contact those who were so significant to you.
• I wish that I had let myself be happier. “This is a surprisingly common one,” says Ware. “Many did not realize 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.”
These revelations are sobering, but the wisdom in them is powerful. They urge us to be authentic, present, honest and transparent, connected, and happy. Sign me up!
The dead and the dying have much to teach us. Listen to them closely. But most importantly, consider what you want to achieve or change in your life before you join their number.
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Lauretta Hannon, a resident of Powder Springs, is the bestselling author of The Cracker Queen — A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life and a keynote speaker. Southern Living has named her “the funniest woman in Georgia.” See more at thecrackerqueen.com.