If you died today, what would be your paramount regret? Would you lament the fact that you never got the front porch painted; that you didn’t try that hot new restaurant; that there was one more project at work you wanted to wrap up?
Palliative caretaker Bronnie Ware spent years attending to hospice patients during the final weeks of their lives. In those achingly heavy days, she heard first-hand their regrets over missed opportunities, botched relationships, and squandered joys. Realizing what these end-of-life wishes could teach the rest of us, Ware collected the top five regrets of the dying for her blog Inspiration and Chai and republished them online with the AARP. The affecting list follows:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
It’s easy to inch dangerously close to these common regrets in our own lives. Workaholic family members should know that every one of Ware’s male patients regretted putting their job above their children and partners. Skip the late-night conference call! Too-busy young parents should beware of letting golden friendships grow cold. (“Everyone misses their friends when they are dying,” Ware says.) Have a drink with an old pal! And all of us should remember the most common regret: not being true to oneself. Unleash all those beautiful quirks and aspirations!
The U.S. edition of Ware’s book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing will be released this month. Gratefully, she hints it has a happy ending, noting that each of the people she cared for came to terms with their regrets and even made major life changes to remedy them.
“People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality,” she writes. “I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal.” It’s not too soon for the rest of us to make changes, either—good health or not. Don’t wait.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.