As we come to the end of another year, we are given the opportunity to take stock of our lives. Where did we derive meaning? What did we deem to be most important, based on our actions and use of time ? What were our hopes? Were they fulfilled? What were our fears? Were they understood? Did we serve life?
I, like many of you, have been in deep sorrow over the tragic deaths last Friday in Connecticut. The depth of melancholy is so profound that it is indescribable. The pain feels so great that I can not imagine the pain endured by the loved ones, especially the parents of those young children. Having young children of my own, I know how my day is defined by the pitter-patter of those always-going-to-do-another-thing feet; their continuous plea for “MOM”, sometimes just to know I’m near; and, the toy mines across our house as they live in play. To have that extension of my life ambutated suddenly would leave an emptiness so deep, one would wonder how it could ever be replenished.
To honor those little ones who left this life so suddenly and their parents who are left behind, I’ve taken extra moments to absorb the sensory pleasures of having young children, appreciating the very things that can grate my nerves on a daily basis. I wanted to recognize how lucky I am to be in the presence of these signs of children nearby: My little guy’s surreptitious footsteps on weekend mornings that cease at my bed, yielding in a wake-up question, “mom, can I play Wii Lego Star Wars?”, my stepping on those unbuilt pieces of legos strewn across the family room floor, the sound of “MOM” echoing throughout the house and reverberating within me. I am taking a moment to learn from the tragedy, and recognize what matters most in my life. Indeed, the big things in life are in the little things.
These tragedies offer observers like us the opportunity to re-assess if we are serving life, if we are living what matters most. Coupled with being close to year-end, it is indeed, a well-appointed time for reflection. I end with a blog written by Bronnie Ware, whose piece received so much reader response that she turned the following blog into a book entitled, The Top Regrets of the Dying:
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 3 to 12 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 honored 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.