My mother died at the beginning of this year at the age of 81. She was a happy wife of a very loyal husband. She was a serving mother of four children who shared with her our deepest hurts and our greatest dreams. She joyfully hosted guests in our home, taught the ladies Bible class, and stood at the very heart of our family.
My mother lived a life with no regrets. And so, I read with great interest, an article that was published the day following my mother’s death. It was written by Susie Steiner and appeared in the Guardian Weekly, a British newspaper. It is the story of an Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware, who spent several years caring for patients during the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying thoughts in her blog and eventually published a book entitled The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying.
Ware noticed the remarkable clarity that people seem to gain at the end of their lives, and she identified several lessons that we can learn from their insight.
She writes, “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again.” Here are the top five regrets of the dying that Ware observed:
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, realizing how many dreams had gone unfulfilled. In essence they were all saying that health offers the opportunity to pursue our dreams, until that health is gone. Most wished they had acted when they were younger and healthier.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This came from every male patient that Ware cared for. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship as they spent their lives on “the treadmill of a work existence. ”
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. In order to keep peace with others many had suppressed their feelings. Some had even developed illnesses due to the bitterness and resentment they carried deep inside. Looking back, they wished they had been more open.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Many would think about old friends in their final weeks and would even try to track them down. There were many regrets about not giving these relationships more time and effort over the years.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. Surprisingly many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. Old habits, the comfort of familiarity, and the fear of change kept them stuck in unhappy routines, while deep inside, they longed for a deeper joy. They discovered that it had always been available, but they had not chosen it.
When I read this list of regrets it brought two thoughts to mind.
First, these stories of regret remind me that my journey of faith, modeled by my mother, can be filled with great joy and end with no regret.
Second, I am grateful that God helped my mother to discover her dreams and live a happy life. She was surrounded by great friends and by a loving family. Both she and my dad worked hard, but they also played hard. She lived a long and full life that took her to several very different parts of our great country, ranging from the sand storms of west Texas, to the swamps of southern Louisiana, to the lake-effect snows of upper Michigan, just to name a few. In each place she built a warm home, made good friends, and experienced joy and fulfillment.
I miss her greatly, but I know that her journey here prepared her to live in a place where regret does not exist.
It’s one thing to look back and regret the direction your life is going. It’s easy to make a list of regrets. But it’s another thing to look at the present and the future with hope. God offers hope. Can you name your greatest regret so far? If you can, then you can begin now taking steps to change it.