Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Regrets Of The Dying

I haven't read such a good piece for awhile. Got me into some thinking. 

To quote:

"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 learnt 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. 

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. 

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

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. 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. 

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 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. 

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. 

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. 

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."


My POV: 

I think it's a lot easier to say things like this on your deathbed when you've got nothing left to fear. But life is complicated - the guy who ignores his powerful dream to quit his rat race job and open up a surf shop, or the guy who never tells his best friend that he's really in love with her so as not to break up her relationship aren't necessarily sowing the seeds of regret, they're making sacrifices for others. 

I'm not saying it applies to everything but just as saying "I wish I'd lived up to my potential" is a nicer way of saying "I wish I'd worked harder," so too can "I wish I had let myself be happier" can be a nicer way of saying, "I wish I had been more selfish."

Also, my thought experiment: 

Will the people on the death bed, if given another chance to continue living, would make actual changes in their lives? Or would they only work nominally toward happiness, eventually finding their way back to their same disappointing way of living? 

Selfishly to say I would love to live on a tropical island and swim, fish, watch TV and party with hot bikini girls for the rest of my life, but that just isn't possible. I'm not terrible at writing, and I'd like to write a history book for kids but I know I can't because I look through the blog posts all over the internet and I realize just how awful I am compared to people who are anywhere near getting even considered for publication. 

The moments before your death are like the moments after your birth, you naively assume you could easily do things like "be happy" but then you realize that its a lot harder when life hits you in the face.

Things get in the way of doing all of those things, though, especially each other. 

What if "being happy" for you means working hard to help others or secure a financially stable future for yourself/your family?

What if "staying in touch with your friends" means sacrificing time with your immediate family?

What if "the life you want to live" means isolating yourself from others and remaining stationary?

I understand that things like this are meant to provoke people into trying to better their lives, but I always hated that they rarely acknowledge that such "wisdom" in life can only come from those who are facing the end of it: all of whom probably heard this same advice some time within their own life, and so on. Worrying about whether or not you're living the life you want all the time can actually get in the way of living the damn thing, and just cause more stress and anxiety that just changing your perception rather than specific aspects of your life as it is now.

Regrets I have a few. Really the only thing I would have changed is I would have become a History teacher as I always wanted to and I would have told the girl I had a crush the most that I really liked her... but I can't stay in one place, always got to move forward.

Lastly, for those who is in their deathbed, thinking of ending or having a miserable life, watch the youtube below, it's pretty famous so maybe anyone who's bothered to read this has seen it before. It is one of the most smile-worthy, uplifting affirmations of life there is from a person who himself was close to death (and, of course, who is now passed on). It's beautiful and moving and he's got such an amazing attitude that it might encourage you a little. In the end all we have is what we have done with the life we have been given. Don't beat yourself up if you didn't achieve all your goals.

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