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The Five Top Regrets of the Dying

Written by Gary North on March 6, 2012

This article is a summary of the author’s book. I have not read the book, but it looks interesting.

This list is worth considering.

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For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

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 have 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.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work 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.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

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.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

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.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

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.

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The first four can be dealt with. Most recent researches into personality traits indicate that there is no known way to re-program yourself to be happier.

If you think you have found a way, start a subscription-based website and write a book. Produce DVDs. Dr. Phil will have you as a guest. You will make a lot of money.

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12 thoughts on “The Five Top Regrets of the Dying

  1. JacksonEdwards says:

    FOUR WORDS SUM UP MY LIFE: " I have enjoyed lving" Will be 73 years young next April. LIVE your life !!!

  2. With God all things are possible. I'm happy!!

  3. A Soul at Peace says:

    I am 60. If I had it to do all over again there is very little I would do differently in my life. I found Christ as Saviour at age 14 although He was working in my life prior to that. In essence, none of us really "die." Rather, we pass on to another phase, the eternal one. Above all that you do in this present mortal life, make sure you DO NOT DIE WITHOUT CHRIST!

    "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Acts 16:31. It is true. What you do with your life in this mortal sphere is important enough. What you do in your eternal state is absolutely critical.

    To lose your wealth is much,
    To lose your health is more.
    To lose your soul is such a loss as no man can restore.

  4. Paul Divine says:

    I was 87 years old last month, Feb. 27. I realise that I have lived longer than the average life of people who live in the United States. I have loved every minute of my life. The most important decision that I made was when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. He has blessed me beyond measure. And, now I have the hope that He promised in His Word, the Bible.—I am assured of living in His Kingdom as a living spirit forever when I pass from this life to that spirit life. I have no fear whatsoever of dieng. I know that my spirit will just pass into His Kingdom and live there with Him and other Heanenly beings forever.

  5. Paul,
    please watch the following video. The Light of The World http://www.chick.com/the_story_of_Jesus/

  6. I am 70 years young and have made many, many mistakes, but I became a Christian at the age of 9 years of age and became a child of God. During my 70 years of life, for the most part, it has been good and God has always been with me, even when I deserted Him. Oh, what an awesome God we serve!! I have found that love, laughing and a bright smile is the best makeup we can possibly wear. A smile is worth a thousand words. Try it and watch as frowns often turn into a smile because you touched someone's life. You may never see that person again, but they may remember you forever. Smile and let your love show through your eyes. It may just save someone's life.

  7. #6, I wish I'd outlive the Kriminal Kenyan–by a long time

  8. Patriot Games says:

    Sixth regret of the dying, being a Tea Party member.

  9. Melinda says:

    Amen Noni, everything is Possible with God in Control!

  10. Seventh regret, making pointless, idiotic posts on the Internet under the name "Patriot Games".

  11. By the way, Patriot Games, the founders of this nation who protested the domination and overburdening taxation of the British government were NO DIFFERENT than the Tea Party members of today. Perhaps you don't care for the people who founded this nation and what they believed it. Either that, or you are just spouting ignorance. Take your pick.