Tuesday, October 21, 2014

While there's still time

I've seen enough people pass away in my day, especially people from my family, that I have come to realize the old expression is true:  

No one, on their deathbed, has ever said, "Gee!  I wish I had spent more time at work!  I could have done more Quarterly Reports, most Cost/Benefits analyses, and done deeper research and development on the fragellated hydrostan that we were trying to market!"

Nope.  Here's the word from an Australian nurse, Bonnie Ware, who has counselled the dying in their last days.  As a palliative nurse, she reveals the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is "I wish I hadn't worked so hard."

There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps.

Ms Ware recorded dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, and that blog turned into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Ware feels that people finally (an appropriate use of that term) gain clarity at the end, seeing the larger picture, and she thinks 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 Nurse Ware recorded them:

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."

Now, how old are you right now?  63?  60?  52?  34?  26? Here's the thing, and by the way, you look marvelous today!  You cannot count on 64, 61, 53, 35, or 27.  I'm sorry.  You never know.  Why so many wonderful people are called home so early, we don't know.  I do know that when the newspaper or tv news does a story about someone turning 100, they are never crabby or crotchety people. Ever notice that? Sometimes they attribute their superannuation to tossing back a juice glass full of scotch every morning and hooving on a pack of Luckys every day (very rare, you know) or they chalk it up to faith or friends or family or lots of molasses and bulgur wheat, but no one blowing out five times twenty candles ever said, "Oh boy! I'm so glad I worked/worried/fretted and fussed all day and all night for all these years!  It's really paying off now, boy howdy!"

"I can see right through you!"
We have the unique chance to learn from Ms Ware's patients, who, like Jacob Marley, are trying to send us a message. Are you too busy to hear it?

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