Regret: definition: a feeling of sorrow or remorse for a fault, act, loss, or disappointment.
What do a 90-year old sorority girl and regrets have in common? Nothing! Bertie McConnell finally joined her sorority at 90. For decades she had regretted having to leave college to support her family and the war effort in 1941. Regrets can have a profound affect on our lives, changing our views of success and failures. A former hospice nurse, Bronnie Ware, spoke to her patients over the years about their lives. She heard great wisdom, love, and regrets.
Even though we are unique as humans, we seem to live our lives to common themes. Maybe this is just a “Western” cultural phenomenon, but the patients Bronnie saw consistently had 5 regrets from their lives. We can learn from what she heard, if we choose to. Here’s a summary.
The most common regret: “I wish I had had the courage to live true to myself, and not to other’s expectations.” This comes down to honoring and pursuing one’s dreams. People said they had not pursued most of their dreams and looked back and saw their lives lacking. Bronnie says to honor your dreams, while you have your health and the freedom it affords.
Every man in her care regretted working too hard. Through a lack of balance, they missed their children’s lives and life with their partners. The patients believed the life they missed would have far surpassed all their work achievements. Since in our generation, men and women work very hard and often exclude much of “life” from their overwhelming work, we can consider what we really need, how much we really must have to afford a “happy” life. We can examine our values and adjust expectations.
Many of Bronnie’s patients said they had suppressed their feelings to keep peace and in the end suffered from pent-up bitterness. She suggests people express true feelings and live as who they are. Some relationships will benefit from honesty and others may fall by the wayside. In either case, anger and ill feeling will not be buried and later, cause harm.
People regretted letting their friendships lapse over the years, as demands on their time became too great. For those patients she saw, all that mattered at the end was love and relationships. Personal choice, again, as to how we spend our time and with whom, is the difference between looking back with pleasure, or pain.
The last regret of the five was that people wished they had allowed themselves to be happier. Again, this was a choice to be true to one’s self. Being something that is not else is like wearing armor all the time; the weight of it keeps us from moving freely or joyfully through life.
Bronnie’s overall message to her readers is this: Choose to live your life true to yourself, “honestly, consciously, and wisely.” This may be the path for arriving at that last stage and believing, “It has been a great ride.” Bertie McConnell followed at least one of her dreams –will you?
Read more about these lessons in Bronnie’s book: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.