After picking lemons from our tree, Sweetly Six made a “lemon heart.”

The biggest Silver Linings as a hospice nurse came from my reflective conversations with people as they were nearing the end of their lives. I had some of the most powerful and transformative experiences as people shared their regrets, dreams and hopes. Yes, a dying person can still have hope (e.g., to have a final celebration, to make ammends, to die without pain).

One of my personal regrets was not having written the stories down. So, I was thrilled to learn about an Australian palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, who  recorded people’s dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai. The blog gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

I personally had the honor of witnessing the profound clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives that Ware describes. We have the opportunity to learn from this wisdom now…and hopefully not wait until the end of our lives (Silver Lining).

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

  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 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. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked 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.”
  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.”
  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.”
  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.”

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, how would you change the way you live today? What would you like to achieve or change before you die?

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  1. says

    Hollye this post is just fantastic and such an appropriate message during the Christian Holy Week and Jewish Passover. In death is life. But this is true for people of all faiths. In "dying" to old, negative patterns and beliefs that limit or diminish us, we can "resurrect" a true, positive way of living and being. I say "resurrect" because I think we are born to live full, happy lives–and then we become all too good at finding ways not to, or at best, putting it off. Having the big C is a big wake-up call to this, and yet I backslide and then criticize myself for doing so. Thanks for this potent reminder. I will print and tape to my mirror, and I may even re-post it for Easter morning. Love, Frances

  2. Kim C says

    This is very interesting. The cancer journey helped me to clearly see the top 5 listed here. I have acted on this clarity and made many changes in my life. In this way, the cancer journey was a gift to me – as seems the case for many people living with a cancer diagnosis.