Recently, I read an article by a palliative care nurse about the regrets people had as they were dying and how her patients reflected on the lives they’d led. These final days were a time of growth, she wrote, a period of clarity and wisdom about what time had shown to be of genuine and lasting value, when people saw that what had once been so important had not stood up to time’s testing.
There were five regrets that were common to dying patients. They were:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live the life I wanted instead of the one expected of me. This was the most common regret.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. Every man had remorse over this.
- I wish I had been courageous enough to express my true feelings. Similar to the first regret, this was one way that many saw themselves as having limited themselves.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. They regretted not having given their friendships more time and attention, and for having lost contact with some old friends altogether.
- I wish I’d let myself be happier. That their own choices had limited their happiness was now more evident.
It’s good to reflect on what people learned of the lives they lived, but as I read the article, I also wondered how many of the nurse’s patients had once read an article just like the one she had written. Does that list of regrets hold any real surprises for you? Haven’t we all heard it before? And by now is anyone surprised that people have epiphanies about what really matters when they’re nearing the end of their own life?
Likely, the answer is “no”, but I wouldn’t want to write off the article for its lack of originality. Actually, what was most striking to me was that it wasn‘t original. Even though the article was widely read and the subject of much comment, I wonder what difference it really made?
I think a lot of people probably read that article and thought it was wise and good, but before much time passed, they’d effectively forgotten what they’d read and gone on with their lives pretty much as they had before. They were just as busy, just as worried about doing what was expected of them, and just as willing to not really speak for themselves or have their own ideas as the nurse’s patients had been.
There’s a line about this in the Bible, about someone looking into the mirror and walking away, only to forget what they just saw, rendering the vision to be effectively useless.
Why does that happen? Why do ideas like those of the nurse’s patients (which are actually good insights) have only momentary impact on people? Take some time to think about this and formulate your own ideas. In my next post, I will offer some ideas from my own experience and my work at LifeMatters.