What do the dying regret the most? It’s not too late to change your life

Can you prepare for the death of a loved one? It’s difficult. But you can prepare for your own death by really living. “It is worth it, so that later, before you die, you don’t regret anything,” writes Australian author Bronnie Ware.

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I will forever be grateful to Dr. Anna Prokop-Saszecka, a doctor and director of the John Paul II Hospital in Kraków. I arrived with my Father. She looked at me warmly, even though she was in a hurry to do other duties, and said to me quietly, “It’s really bad.” “I know,” I said. But I don’t think I knew. I read the result of the test. Theoretically, I understood each word: invasive tumor on the lung. But my Father was always there, at my every beck and call.

Then she said, “You should spend as much time as you can with your father.” I don’t know if I understood what she meant, but I listened. I sat by his bed, I worked. Modern technology has its benefits–laptops are getting smaller and the internet is almost always within reach.

We talked a little, about those unimportant everyday things. And then we were silent. Sometimes he said, “Go now. What are you sitting here for?” He joked that the hospital will charge me for sitting there. Then he spoke less. At times he was almost between two worlds. The one I had no access to beckoned him more and more. I don’t think he fought it.

“It is said that everything comes from love or from fear, all the emotions, actions and thoughts.” — author Bronnie Ware

I don’t know where my peace of mind came from. I knew he was leaving, however, I didn’t think he was so far along on his journey.

Which is why his departure surprised me. Theoretically I knew, I saw … Nearby, Pope Francis led the Way of Cross for the youth. I could hear the prayers thorough the open window, songs and words spoken in many languages. The 12th station was just beginning.

I sat with him and worked, as usual. Perhaps I shouldn’t have sent that last email. Or maybe I should have, because life still goes on; death is a natural end and beginning, even though we don’t always want to admit that. So when it does come we feel lost.

Could I have done more, said more, been more?

I don’t know. I did what I felt I should have done. He did too. He said his goodbyes, he took care of his affairs. He calmly waited. Does that mean he didn’t regret anything?

I didn’t ask, and now I will never know the answer. Although today it should be more important to me whether I have regrets.

READ MORE: It’s never too late to make a change

In her moving book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, inspirational writer and speaker Bronnie Ware writes: “If we were able to face the fact that death is inevitable, and to honestly reconcile with it before it comes, we could change our attitude, while there is still time. If we realize that our time is limited, we may not know if we have years, weeks or hours ahead of us, but we succumb less to our ego and we don’t care as much what others think of us. We concentrate on what we want, and if we are aware of approaching death, we can give meaning to our existence and while it lasts, derive satisfaction from it.”

Bronnie Ware lives in Australia but her books are read worldwide. She also sings and composes music, and writes a popular blog. She quit a “decent job” at a bank because she felt she needed to change her life. And though it was not easy, change it she did. She was broke, but she believed that if she faced her fears, she would succeed. Those tests of faith were more and more difficult, she admits. But thanks to them she became wiser and more confident.

“Coming to terms with the fact that you cannot do more, that you have to believe in the higher power is a catalyst that finally triggers a reaction.”

For eight years, she worked in palliative care. Intense, a sometimes difficult period which taught her a lot. Thanks to her charges, as she calls them, she found peace and meaning in life. Conversations with the dying taught her the courage to live true to herself, because it depends on the choices we make whether we leave this world happy and fulfilled.

Five things we regret before death:

Regret one: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself.

Regret two: I wish I didn’t work so hard.

Regret three: I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Regret four: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Regret five: I wish that I had let myself be happier.

From The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware

Today she is able to recognize impeding death, but that is not important. What is important is the fact that she makes completely different choices in life than she did 15 or 20 years ago.

One of her first articles was a blog post called Five Things People Regret Before Death. Within months it was read by more than a million readers. That’s when she decided to write a very personal book.

Asked what she would regret if today she found out she only has a few months to live, she said: “Nothing. Today I live like I always wanted. I know what is important to me. I no longer seek recognition, but it wasn’t always so. That courage, to live a life true to myself, it was my dying patients who taught me that for eight years. Ruth, Grace, John, Charlie, and many others.”

Those who regretted something, had no time to change anything.

“To not regret any of the things that my dear patients did, you need to have real courage,” she said. “You also need to truly love yourself. The decision is yours. You have inside you not only the light, but also the wisdom that will guide you, step by step. Be who you are, find balance, speak openly, celebrate those you love and let yourself be happy. This way you will not only do yourself a favor but also fulfill the wishes of all those who have despaired before death that they themselves didn’t have sufficient courage. You have a choice. It’s your life.”

 

Iwona Sitnik-Kornecka
Iwona Sitnik-Kornecka
Iwona is the editor-in-chief of For Her, Poland. She has written for the Mexican newspaper El Sol Veracruzano, served as correspondent for ELLE, Poland, and was a local news reporter for TVP Krakow, the Polish public television station.

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