click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Top Five Regrets of the Dying

Top Five Regrets of the Dying

It's not too late to avoid these common regrets in life.


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.

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. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.

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 realize 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.

Related Article: Torah With Morrie #4: Live Like You're Dying

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one.

Many did not realize 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.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is your life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 28

(20) breinde, January 13, 2012 12:17 AM

Rav Noach Weinbergs famous words of wisdom

Rav Noach, the founder of Aish used to ask people "what are you willing to die for?" gave them a few minutes to answer and then replied " so live for it!" we spend so much of our lives wasting our time, why not take a few minutes every day to come up with a plan of action, what we want to accomplish in our lives and set goal for ourselves to get there, because otherwise, sadly enough, our time will come to die before we've accomplished so much that we dreamed of doing "one day"

(19) Anonymous, January 12, 2012 4:31 PM

Living through experiences & our youth

BS"D By the end of Shevat 5772 G-d willing, I'll be turning 43. My youth was definately a very rocky one indeed. The miracles of birth, thought processes, struggles are & have always been part of development. Through our kinderlach who are B.H. growing all too fast, I've lived beautiful experiences through them & along side of them. My hope is that they remember the good moments we've shared & how youthful I had been & hope they will not neglect me or their father. May they love us & get along amongst themselves & have successful marriages.

(18) Zahavah Steinberg, January 12, 2012 4:13 PM

Acrostic poem on Life (my own original text)

BS"D LIFE... L earning from experience, be a role model to I nfluence & set an example to be involved with F amily festivities often which will bring E njoyment to everyone

(17) Feige, January 9, 2012 1:37 PM

the present is all we have

to day is my birthday. I am 62. for the life of me I have no idea what 62 is "supposed" to be. I was blessed to have found some of my mission when I was 12, before society ruined my natural instincts. "Be a light onto the nations" was my mission. I have been able to use the gifts "H" gave me to make the world a better place. My first career was as a speech pathologist, but I never realized the difference I made until I saw The King's Speech. I've been thru several more careers in which I hope I made the world a better place.for me the two most important things I've done was: 1. become observant (with my own pinache) 2. Stop the use of drugs and alcohol. as that happened I got back the G-d of my understanding as well as the beauty and spirituality of Judaism. for one-it no longer was to keep the mitzvoth "to keep up with the Cohens." It has become an active relationship w/"H", not a theory, but a practice. My live has evolved. I can give to the community b/c I have what to give. I have made wonderful friends who go back and forth to Israel. the greatest joy is the that my daughter and I have a close and deep relationship now, that she allows me easy access to my "grans" who love me unconditionally. I have a few regrets. Most of all that I may not be around to be w/ my "grans" and their chldren. My life is sooo much better. and i don't have the great retirement plan, etc. but I have one big goal: to make aliyah. My daughter and her family live in Israel, I"H, my husband and I are making aliyah in March, 2012(second choice April, 2012). we are going through Nefesh b'Nefesh, that is what is making it possible to go to Israel. Please check it out. Oh and if any of you come to Karmiel and visit.

(16) SusanE, January 9, 2012 12:52 PM

Well....We can do it better next time.

From what I've studied, everything is a process. Realizing we will die soon, gives us the abililty to realize our regrets and mistakes throughout our lives. Reincarnation allows us to do better and gives us another chance to correct mistakes we have made. I read that our vices right now are trials G-d is giving us to redeem failures from a previous life. I hope that is true because it seems a loving and just way for G-d to help us to succeed. Not all of us came with a book of instructions for making good choices.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment