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The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

BY Jennifer Fulwiler

| Posted 12/12/11 at 7:21 AM

 

A woman named Bronnie Ware who spent years working in palliative care recently wrote a post about her experiences working with people in the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. In it she discussed the top five regrets that she saw her patients express. Take a look at the list:

1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

2. “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”

3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”

4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

Read the whole post for a lot of additional insights, including which regret was the most common, as well as which statement was made by every single male patient she ever nursed. [That link is temporarily unavailable at the time of this writing; if it remains down, you can see a cached version here.]

As I looked over the list, I realized that I was once on track to have many—if not all—of these regrets at the end of my life. Now that I’m Catholic, I doubt that any of them will be serious concerns; the risk of me lying on my deathbed consumed with regret has been drastically diminished. This is certainly not to say that my life is perfect now, but the difference is that I at least know what is true now. When you think about it, every one of these regrets ties into some lie of the devil:

When we say, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me,” it was because we listened to the devil say, “You can’t be happy without other people’s approval.”

When we say, “I wish I didn’t work so hard,” it was because we listened to the devil say, “You’ll find your life’s fulfillment in your career.”

When we say, “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings,” it was because we listened to the devil say, “God won’t help you to stand up for what’s good and true.”

When we say, “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends,” it was because we listened to the devil say, “You don’t have time to spend time with the people you love—just look at all those important things on your to-do list!”

When we say, “I wish that I had let myself be happier,” it was because we listened to the devil say, “Don’t bother to seek God’s true purpose for your life—you’re obliged to do what people expect of you.”

Reviewing this list crystallizes for me something I’ve thought since my conversion: that the extent to which you end up with a life full of regrets is directly proportional to the extent to which you seek happiness in the world. As I and so many other people have found, you’ll never find lasting fulfillment outside of God. As I continue to think about these regrets of the dying, they strike me as a tragic illustration of St. Augustine’s famous quote: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”