An Australian nurse who spent years working in palliative care looking after dying people during the last twelve weeks of their lives, recorded their epiphanies at the end of life and has compiled a list of their top five regrets.
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard (most often expressed by men)
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
- I wish that I had let myself be happier
Such lists suggest that if those people could live their lives again, they would do things quite differently. Publishing such things is perhaps seen as a way of warning people not to make the same mistakes they did, so that they will not have the same regrets at the end. But will it succeed in achieving that goal?
I think that the problem is that when one knows one is dying, then one feels that the situation cannot get worse, so thinking that doing what you really want to do seems a much better option. But when has no expectation of an early end, things could seem quite different. A good decision when one has no expectation of dying in the near future can be quite different from a good decision when one knows one has just a short time to live. The choice may be between feeling good while living to feeling good at the end of life.
Take #1. It is nice to be able to make decisions independently of the needs of others but how many of us can do that? Many of our decisions are due to being considerate of the needs of others because we care about them. Sacrificing our own interests for the sake of others we care about may actually make us feel better than indulging ourselves, though it may not seem so at the end.
Take #2. You may feel that if you did not work hard that you might lose your job and not be able to support yourself and your family or not have enough money to retire. So working hard may well be the best option.
Take #3. Yes, it would be nice to be totally frank but we may feel that keeping the peace with others and not hurting their feelings makes for a better life than having disrupted relationships.
Take #5. This suggests that people wish they had taken risks with their lives. Perhaps they didn’t because the risks may have not have been rewarded and they feared that their lives would become worse by taking them. This is particularly the case with people in abusive relationships. People on the outside often wonder why people stay in them but for the people on the inside they may fear being killed or beaten or becoming destitute and homeless if they make a change. What this regret tells us is that we, as a society, should be providing people with options so that escaping from bad situations would not be so risky. If people in abusive relationships were assured of safety if they fled, then they are more likely to do so.
I think #4 holds up for any situation. At all stages of one’s life, keeping in touch with friends is a good idea.
My belief is that people make decisions that seem to them to be the best. Looking back, one may be able to think of better decisions but they may not have been better at that time. I think that it is probably better to not to spend too time in useless second-guessing of what might have been.