Ms. Bronnie Ware, a nurse who has worked in palliative care for many years, shared what the top 5 regrets people were saying on their deathbed.
She posted them along with her notes on her website, and we’ve copied them below. Included on each item are our own insights. We’ve also added a few more items or “regrets” that we hope every Christian believer won’t have when it is time to go home to the Lord.
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 have 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.
Denielle’s insight: I remember the movie The Bucket List, where two terminally ill men go out of their way to pursue things they desire before they die. After watching, I reflected on having my own.
One item I put on my list is to learn to say "no" when necessary. Now this is very difficult because I'm the type who gives out the whole cookie. I tend to give everything and forget myself to support others.
Don't get me wrong, it’s perfectly okay to help others pursue their dreams. But when I get lost or derailed from my personal purpose and priorities, then I stop a while, assess the situation and say "no" to certain things that are not aligned to what I value and am created for.
It's not selfishness to focus on doing your purpose or to go after your desires and dreams. Learn to get that proper balance through wise and godly discernment. I'm not there yet, but I'm learning.
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.
Raymund’s insight: This is one reason why I started simplifying my life. I’m definitely not lazy; my bosses can tell you how I work. I work hard and smart. I know when to retire for the day.
I’m aware that work is just a part of life, not life itself. I love my work, I value my work, but I love and value my family more. My father said that the reason why I couldn’t go abroad and find a better job and a bigger income is because I can’t leave my family behind. He said it’s my weakness. If that’s true, then I admit it. But that weakness becomes the strength of my family.
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.
Denielle’s insight: Confession: I'm one of those people who suppress their feelings in order to keep peace with others. I'd rather stay silent and then rant away when Raymund, my husband, is the only one around to hear my outbursts. A lot of times, out of frustration, I guess, he would tell me to speak up and let loose my feelings toward the person in concern.
I prayed about this and I realized that it's the fear of rejection that's stopping me to be expressive. And since "perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18), all I needed to do is to express my feelings in love, choose my words carefully and say them in all sincerity. Not sugar- coated. Just simple and true. By the way, it helps a lot to pray for wise words before speaking.
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.
Raymund’s insight: I have had many close friends in high school and college. Many more now at work. I must admit I’m guilty of not staying in touch with all of them. Some I’ve even neglected. But I’m glad and honored to have known each one of them. My life is that of constant prioritizing, focusing, and simplifying right now. But when I do get the chance to meet these friends again, I can say that I’m sincerely glad to be with them once more.
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 sillyness 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.
Denielle’s insight: I just turned 33 a few days ago. Most people say I look younger and ask why I don't look my age. My secret? I laugh a lot, smile a lot, and am always in a happy disposition. As much as I can, I enjoy the relationships I have with my husband, my children, relatives, friends, churchmates, and others. Like Ms. Ware said, happiness is a choice.
Choose to be happy. Feeling down lately? Count your blessings! You'll be amazed you can't really count them all. Every morning in prayer, welcome God’s joy in your heart and ask Him to help you block thoughts or circumstances that may steal that joy.
Additional Regrets that We Don’t Want to Have
1. I wish I had more time glorying God than complaining about life.
Life is too short, or too long, to spend it over complaining and whining. It’s too short or too long to not glorify God with it. This is one regret that we don’t want to make when that time comes. Raymund mentioned this in one of his articles about minimalism being a spiritual journey for him.
2. I wish I had spent more time serving God and people than serving myself.
One of the best ways to find purpose and motivation in life is by helping others. This is best explained in this blog post by Leo Babauta.
In his book The Purpose-Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warren revealed that one of our life’s purposes is to serve God and His people.
This may sound contradicting to Regret #1 above, but like what I said, we have to find the right balance. We should make sure that our own personal, God-given purposes are not compromised.
3. I wish I had told a lot more people about Jesus, and helped other believers do the same.
As Christians, it is our Great Commission to share Christ to others.
Matthew 28:19-20 says “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This is Jesus’ personal instruction to the apostles shortly before He ascended into heaven. It essentially says what Jesus expected us, those who follow Him, to do in His absence. This is called “The Great Commission,” not “The Great Suggestion.”
We pray that we have enough courage and more opportunities to tell people about what Christ did to us as His glory is seen in our lives. We don’t want to withhold the fullness that a relationship with God brings, as we desire for others to also experience the same.
If today is your last day, would you say that you've lived a full life? What's your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?