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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.

December 30, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 31

(23) Rafael, May 2, 2016 3:10 PM

Life should be lived with earthly concerns and know everyone else is concerned with those necessities . The "Death Industry " or afterlife insurance agents take precious time away from the flesh and bone experiences we are meant to be feeling . Everything lives and dies and that's all we know . When someone close to you dies cry for yourself because the dead don't feel your pain . When we are dead we may find out what the death phase is all about ... Maybe and then again maybe not

(22) Anonymous, May 2, 2016 3:49 AM

Inner Thoughts of the Dying

I am wondering if any patients had regrets about not achieving greater spiritual growth, not loving their families and friends enough, not working hard enough to make the world a better place, and not working hard enough to actualize their mission in life. It seems to me that the regrets mentioned are petty and self centered: These patients wish they were more true to themselves (what does that mean? sometimes being true to oneself means being more comfortable with acting out one's negative tendencies). They wish they didn't work so hard (what is so commendable about such a goal? Our goal in life should be to work hard at achieving positive goals) They wished they expressed their feelings more and let themselves be happier. Expressing feelings freely and being happy is the domain of the very young and adolescents. As we grow older and certainly at the doors of death, I would think the patients would evolve to a more mature consciousness. I would hope that at the juncture of death, a person would be letting go of his/her narrow ego needs and and focus on a higher reality and ideals that are greater than him/herself. I would imagine they would reflect on such thoughts as did they strive to achieve their mission in life; were they kind and loving to the people in their lives; did they strive to grow spiritually and overcome their spiritual challenges; and did they develop a relationship with Hashem.

(21) venze, May 2, 2016 3:08 AM

Wish there is no regret while dying

Coming to 74, I am inclined to share the feelings of those dying elderly people.
Indeed, we play different roles in our life, from childhood to old-age. While small, we obey our parents. While schooling, we listen to teachers. While working we take instruction from superiors. While having a family, we compromise with spouse and children.
By the time we are retired and thinking to do something on our own, our body refuses to budge even our mind wills.
Did we not live for others? Did we have our own life? Should we regret? I wonder.

(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.

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