The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

Our small group is currently working through the book of Ecclesiastes. I never imagined I would enjoy the study as much as I have. There is something truly refreshing and calming to know that the struggles we all deal with have been repeated throughout the course of human history (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10). It is almost as though wisdom is pleading with us to just listen this one time so we don’t keep making the same mistake over and over.

What does it take for you to make a decision based on someone else’s experiences? Unfortunately, it seems like we as a people tend to have a pattern of rejecting the instruction of the wise and dismissing the influence of those who have walked before us on the path of life. I am unsure if it is a general lack of respect for the elderly or a fierce defense of individualism, but it just seems wisdom is not considered a modern day commodity.

I ran across a recent article about a hospice nurse named Bronnie Ware who compiled a list of the most common regrets her patients described to her during their final days on earth. The following is the list she generated and developed into a book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

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.”

I don’t know about you, but the thing that stands out to me the most is that all of these struggles could be worked out in the context of accountability and community. We set ourselves up for the same list of regrets when we refuse to listen to anything but our own justification.

“Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning” – Ecclesiastes 4:13

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