I am an Episcopal Priest who has been involved in the hospice movement for many decades, beginning in the 1980s as a member of the committee that started the first hospice in Juneau. Now I am an active hospice chaplain with over twenty years of spending time with dying patients and their family and friends.
During that time, I came across an article written by Bonnie Ware, an Australian hospice nurse who asked her patients about any regrets they had, or anything they would do differently. Following are the top five regrets:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life that others expected of me.
With the end of life approaching, people realized how many dreams had gone unfulfilled. They were going to die without having honored even half of their dreams, due to choices made or not made. Health brings freedom very few realize when they have it.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
This comment came from almost all the working parents. They had missed too much of their children’s growing-up and their partner’s companionship. They expressed deep regret for spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of work.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Ware speaks of the many who reported suppressing their feelings 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.
As the hours ticked off, many realized that they had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let old friends fade away 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.
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 themselves, 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?
No matter your age this is a question that everyone needs to ask themselves. Share this article with a loved one and use it to begin a conversation about what you might change to live more authentically. Seek wisdom from your spiritual tradition or research other traditions of spirituality or psychological development.
All of life is preparation for dying so “be prepared” to pass over knowing that you did your very best to live the most fulfilling, grateful, non-judgmental, and compassionate life possible.
• The Rev. Roger Wharton having served the Episcopal Churches in Juneau is currently a hospice chaplain and EcoChaplain in Silicon Valley. His website is www.ecospirit.org and emails are received at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Friday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.