Nurse Reveals the Top Five Regrets People Make on their Deathbed

By Bronnie Ware

Wake Up World

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 realize 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.

About the author:

Bronnie Ware is the author of the best-selling memoir, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, released worldwide, with translations in 27 languages. She also runs an online personal growth and song-writing course, has released two albums of original songs, and writes a well-loved blog. Bronnie’s newest book, Your Year for Change: 52 Reflections for Regret-Free Living, was released in October 2014.

Bronnie’s previous work has included mixing cocktails on a tropical island, management in the banking sector, caring for dying people, teaching song writing to prisoners, and a few things in between. She is now an author, personal growth facilitator, and speaker. Bronnie lives in NSW, Australia.

Check out more of Bronnie’s work at bronnieware.com

 


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  • Konstantin

    Number one is the most important point by far and should be on everyone’s mind. The closer one gets to the expression one’s own inner self, the better. Everything else is mere “being lived,” rather than living.

    • LOVE THIS ARTICLE…when my own mom passed away at 50 from breast cancer…I set out to “accomplish” these very things for myself…and…I HAVE (and continue to do so)…NOW…I coach others to realize and do these things for themselves!!! Thanks for this bittersweet but truly inspiring article!! :0)

    • greenminimalism

      Konstantin, #1 includes all the others! Staying true to yourself encompasses all the regrets. Deathbed regrets is a really great topic to think about, because given the awareness of other people’s regrets, we can choose to live life to the full. I’ve extended on that idea and written a sensitive response here: http://greenminimalism.com/2013/07/13/top-5-deathbed-regrets-and-why-they-dont-bother-me/

    • Marie

      These subjects are true but your answers are wrong. The answers to 1-5
      1. So many people are taught to live what is expected out of them. Pleasing people, doing things to be liked, and living life by their peers choices for them. Marry a pretty woman, handsome guy, a person with a lot of money, & etc. A lot of them end up in rebound relationships, & withdrawn not truly happy in their relationships. Just living the American life!

      2. Do to the American dream alot of people work to pay off their credit cards, their house, car, instead of learning the true meaning of the balance in life of being Family oriented or living life. When theyre are close to death. That is when they learn to live life,& find a balance. They learn what true love is meant in life. Then they have regrets of not marrying who they wanted to. They married who their peers liked.

      3. Everywhere we go people dont talk openly about struggling or knowing their spouse is having affairs. Mostly people look at their marriage or life as a closed subject. They ussually want to keep up with everyone else. Strange Conversation: Is someone that has no filter on their thoughts, dreams, assumptions, & wishes. Those people that actually talk about those things…find answers to living life further by embracing each day in learning through the milestones and concepts from people and strangers.

      4. When near death. People especially non true friends they end up not being by your side when dying. People that dont want you to be alone on your death bed & be by your side are those that have been through the hardest lifestyles abuse, etc. Those are the people who truly love you. Now there are people who love you that want to be by your side and are crying at home for you not to die. A Christian that has faced so much in battling spiritual warfare are the best who always find away to be genuine & by your side.They are the strong ones holding your hand all night until you pass. Knowing they may be holding your hand while your dead. Genuine love from those who truly love you is what people need & travailing for your soul to be saved. Anyone can call themselves a Christian. Everyone has that one thing they hide & end up having that last breath to ask God for forgiveness.

      5. We all try to be accepted by this world in our own way. Truly happieness is knowing that intimate relationship with God. The secret place that God shows you things and makes things happen while you stand in awe when he makes the best happen for you. A lot of people miss out on this chapter in their life when given the opportunity. The world calls this filling a hole with a relationship, people, or things.

  • Dan

    Jesus said I have come so that they may have life and have it abundantly.John 10:10

    • johnlear

      too bad people think jesus meant that anyone should take his thoughts any more importantly than their own…….jesus also had no clue that the world was at least 4.5 billion years old and that 2 thousand years doesn’t even register a blip on that scale…….whatever “god” may be is well beyond what jesus had in mind….or the sheep who have focused on him rather than life for “god” , if you will, is ALL THERE IS….IT TAKES CARE OF ITSELF AND YOU TOO, AS WE ARE EACH “GOD” WITH A LITTLE “G”….we over complicate everything.. “let go and let god” really does make sense, even if you’re agnostic like me..

  • boycottnow

    yes, i agree with all 5 …..when i quit my professional job and went on the street selling in sf …was a great move ….then ,i met osho ,my spiritual teacher in india [he gave me back my life and i didn’t know ,then, that i had lost it , haha] …i’ve lived my life my way …i’m very ‘proud’ of that …haven’t lived in the ‘white world’ for over 20 years [very sterile ,no heart] ..now i live in thailand ….beautiful people,beautiful culture…..amen

    • Kingslee

      Boycottnow, I love your story…lots of courage to quit your professional job and ended up meeting Osho.. Is this destiny?.

  • [email protected]

    I too have become intimate with many people at the end of their lives while working as an oncology nurse, and I can attest to the fact that human disappointment factors heavily in the psyche of the terminally ill.

    • johnlear

      that’s sad… hopefully they have time to go through all the phases and arrive at acceptance….

  • WOW! This has really slapped me in the face. My dad just passed away about 7 months ago and seeing this has just made me really miss him. I remember he would say “Heather Rose, you can wake up happy or sad you make the choice.” He told me that for as long as I can remember. I just realize now that I want to be happy no matter what life has to throw at me. I can take it because I am equipped to handle what doesn’t kill me it will make me stronger. Daddy I miss you and think about you every day. I miss the phone calls that would last over an hour and the long walks we would take. You always made everything ok. Now its up to me. I hope I am to my kids what you were to me a comforting voice that would always get me through anything. Daddy I love you and there will never be a day that I don’t know that you are still here with me making everything ok.

  • JaMES dAY

    I worked for 15 years as a cardiac sonographer, scanning hearts bound for serious heart surgeries like valve replacments & CABG. Alone with me in the dark with the ultrasound I soaked up 1000’s of stories of regrets and fear…at time sit became a confession session. The top two regrets I heard where:
    1. Should have spent more time with family
    2. Should have taken more vacations.

  • Wayne Donnay

    We live in an age of sorrow and regret for what we have allowed to occur before our very eyes. I have always lived my life considering this issue so as to avoid the final regret period. What I regret are the loss of the salmon and the buffalo and many peaceful people who died for capitalism to rise in America. Families divided in search of money, educational systems that leave much to be desired, and a non existent health care system all pain me. Village life, family and communities making decisions that affect their lives is but a dream left for the wealthy in gated communities. Save us from the corporations and media matrix that degrades us all. Quit buying the plastics, oil and lies.

  • Deborah

    I worked with special needs folks for 5 years. You can not imagine “living in the moment” until you experience caring for folks that have lived their lives knowing only “the present”. I must admit that most of my life I have lived ‘outside the box’, following my own intuitive path. It has not always been easy, but, I would not trade my life experiences for anything.

  • Trypheyna

    PLEASE ACKNOWLEDGE BRONNIE – I am disturbed that this brilliant information is being shared with out acknowledgement to the woman who wrote this vital information – Her name is Bronnie Ware – she is an Australian and millions of people around the world have benefited from her wise words. She has a book published on the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying and she deserves to be ACKNOWLEDGED for her work. Please let people know it is her work. I am passionate about this because I have also written a book called The Intimacy of Death & Dying and have done years of research to be able to share this with others so I know how valuable Bronnie’s work is for EVERYONE. You can see more about Bronnie and buy her book on our We Wise Women site http://www.wewisewomen.com/news/top-5-regrets-of-the-dying/

    • Wake Up World

      Hi there,

      Thanks for pointing this out. We have since updated the article to acknowledge Bronnie as it should have been in the first place. 🙂

    • I see that it was updated with the information. Good that you noted the omission.

  • Leah

    ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE: Occasionally a person faces various physical and spiritual sorrows and troubles in the world. Amongst these are feelings so intense that they cannot be compared with any other physical pain. This feeling that causes such great distress in the human soul is a feeling called “regret.”

    There are two completely different forms of regret, however. The regret felt by people of faith and the regret that non-believers experience. These two feelings are extremely different from one another.

    Believers are the people who have an absolute faith in the fact that events take place by Allah’s Will, and whatever befalls them does so by Allah’s Will. This explains their all-important distinctive attribute of putting their unyielding trust in Allah, at good times, in trouble or when they make a mistake. Upon making a mistake, a believer immediately repents with sincerity and hopes for Allah’s forgiveness. As a result, he does not suffer from a distressful and long-lived feeling of regret. The regret felt by believers urges them to ask for repentance, to purify themselves and prevents them from repeating this error. It helps them rectify their errors and prevents them from plunging into a distressful and pessimistic mood. Moreover, this regret does not reduce their enthusiasm, devotion, or religious zeal nor does it drag them downward into a spiral of apprehension and depression.

    Regret felt by unbelievers, on the other hand, is very distressing and long-lasting, as they do not put their trust in Allah when they encounter a difficulty or commit a transgression. Throughout their lives, they often use phrases like “I wish I had not done this…” “I wish I had never said this…,” and so on.

    More importantly, they are subject to a much greater regret in the hereafter. Those who lived a life apart from the religion (deen) in this world will regret every misguided moment of their lives. They were warned before and invited to the straight path. They had enough time to contemplate and embrace the right way. Yet they did not listen when they were warned, ignoring the hereafter as if they would never die. Then in the hereafter, they will have no possibility to get back to this world and correct their errors.

    In the Qur’an, Allah relates their regretful expressions as follows: “If only you could see when they are standing before the Fire and saying, “Oh! If only we could be sent back again, we would not deny the Signs of our Lord and we would be among the believers.” (Qur’an Surat al-An’am, 27)

    “We have warned you of an imminent punishment on the Day when a man will see what he has done, and the unbeliever will say, “Oh, if only I were dust!” (Qur’an Surat an-Naba, 40)

    “Respond to your Lord before a Day comes from Allah which cannot be turned back. On that Day you will have no hiding-place and no means of denial.” (Qur’an Surat ash-Shura, 47)

    “Oh, woe to me! I wish I had not taken that one as a friend. He led me away from the remembrance after it had come to me. And ever is Satan to man a deserter.”(Quran:25;28,29)

    “Close friends, that Day will be enemies to each other, except for the righteous.” (Quran 43;67)

    The only way to avoid this regret is to submit to Allah while there is still time and to comply with the commands of Allah. This leads us to the question: what is the purpose of life?: This video could change your life and save you from ANY regrets at the time of death. You have nothing to lose by watching it and everything to gain, I guarantee, you will not regret it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zor1et-rT8c

    Want to know more:
    http://www.islam-guide.com/

    Read the Qur’an for yourself
    http://www.readthequran.org/
    http://www.clearquran.com/#

    The wake up project:

  • Thank you for sharing this.

  • A R Prabhakar ( India)

    Yes, these are the some of the commonest feelings that the older generation will have regrets about. The present generation are generally well connected and more outspoken and assertive, hence their regrets will be a little different than what has been written the lady about the people she cared for. Hopefully, the present and future generations will lave lesser regrets too.

  • Haha no regrets so far! If you’re life is the meaningless pursuit of others approval, you’re doing it wrong.

    • Youdé Taï

      Amen!

  • krasse

    And people make a big deal of me not having kids because I don’t want to. It makes me sad though that people in general not gave regrets of how they treated others. People are so glad telling other people how to live their lives. Why can’t they realise that maybe themselves had pushed people to things? I try to live my life how I want it and people nag me about it. I have a very few amount of friends and no connection to relatives because they don’t accept me for who I am. Strange that people still are egoistic thinking only about themselves when dying. Not how they treated others. Also, sometimes you cannot chose to be happy. I have had a traumatic childhood and my body is ill in several ways today because of the damage. I cannot do what everyone else can. I have generalised anxiety- all the time. I have been to years of treatment and still working on it. But it’s there. Don’t you tell me I have chosen this!! That’s a rude thing to say to all sick people out there!

  • Bunky Joe Uribe

    I think it was yul brenner in 10 commandments.

  • jimbo

    I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I’m not.
    Kurt Cobain.

  • johnlear

    That will take care of itself Blake..I hope you’re rather young because you need to get much deeper to die well……..and you sound as though you have attached yourself to a “man made” religion such as christianity… that will oftentimes just complicate and confuse the important issues which really matter and are mentioned here…

  • Rusty Schacleford

    Honestly, I am doing 4 out of 5 of these things by the time I was 26! How? Like anything in life it took a complex plan. First and foremost I would like to thank God for this to happen. Secondly, it was through attaining the right knowledge by reading books, meeting people, and learning from everyday life. The only point I have to work on is keeping in touch with my friends. It is hard because I travel A LOT. Traveling should be (I think) the 6th point. You have to do it, like it or not, because it is a huge part of life for attaining that real knowledge, not that passive education you get in school. I am a rich man in many ways but money is not 1 of those things! I don’t work hard, no, I work smart & efficiently and thus it appears that I accomplish a lot. I used to be a sinner and now I am a religious man that has devoted his life to God, thus I don’t follow others. With God I am substantially happier. But, I respect other’s opinions and if you don’t believe, I still respect you 100% as a human being. I have learned a lot from my trips to Japan, a very spiritual country but I also learned a lot from another spiritual city; Jerusalem. Over there, I was finally in touch with my feelings and was able to achieve to express my emotions perfectly, in moderation.

    Thanks for reading & remember to be positive as it attracts good energy- Rusty, 2016.

  • Jeff

    People need to watch Five people who you meet in Heaven this is s very good movie

  • alan johnson

    I now regret not talking to my kids more, we don’t talk ever and I would give anything to change that, even to be with my ex wife. I am sure she has poisoned the kid;s minds against me. She said she would always tell me about big/important things that happened in their lives…but she never did. I have missed all of their 18th and 21st birthdays and the birth of my grandchild, She is almost 4yrs old and I have never seen her…What do I do? I have asked my daughter many times can we put this behind us but she refuses???

  • Peter Dass

    I can’t be accused of working too hard !