When I read the list of the top five regrets of dying people, I was not surprised. As a clergyperson and hospital chaplain for thirty-three years, I served many people at the end of their lives. These regrets sounded congruent with what I had heard from church members, hospital patients and palliative care outpatients. The top five regrets are:
1. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
2. “I wish I had stayed in touch with friends.”
3. “I wish I had let myself be happier.”
4. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self.”
5. “I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams instead of doing what others expected of me.”
Sometimes, people work through the shock of receiving the prognosis of a terminal illness and remarkably, treat it like being given a permission slip to begin living a different life. Sylvia (not her real name) became grateful for each day and more present in the moment. She had to stop working due to her cancer treatments. Yet, she focused on the time when she did feel good and savored her gardening, poetry writing, and time with friends. The courage to express herself more fully grew. She was invited by her palliative care physician to read some of her beautiful, angry and instructive poems about her own patient experience to the interdisciplinary team of doctors, social workers, chaplain, psychologists and others. In this way, her life became more satisfying to her, even while her health declined and she became more physically limited. She made the most of the time she had, when she was well enough to make some changes in her life. Not everyone is so fortunate.
At this point in your life, do you regret any of the top five things? Assuming that you are not actively dying, or even if you are, maybe you have the chance to change. You might not work so hard. What about playing more? You could get in touch with old friends. I have recently enjoyed reaching out to old friends through Facebook. What would it look like to let yourself be happier? What would you do? I recommend the iTunes podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” for ideas. Who is your true self? Express it, unless it is dangerous to yourself or others! What are your dreams and what would it take to realize them? Are there baby steps you could take today toward your dreams? I know an adult learning to sing gospel music for a choir audition. Hooray for her!
I would rather change than look back with regrets. How about you?