This short summary is not a replacement for the book itself.
The book includes details on how our decisions go wrong and the additional costs we pay for our fear. To get the full impact of the book you should actually read it.
Bonnie Ware is an Australian palliative care nurse who, as the job implies, worked with the dying, and recorded their regrets. Based on her incredible experiences she wrote the book “Top Five Regrets of the Dying“. This is my summary.
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 honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
Personally, I follow a rule of “don’t make decisions out of fear”. I’m not always successful at it. But I feel I’m much better at it then I used to be. Which was the core message of this chapter. The author and her patients had often made decisions from a place of fear and later on regretted it.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked 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.”
I feel like this is a regret I’ll never have. I hope I don’t have the opposite regret. That I didn’t work hard enough. In general I try to accomplish my dreams so I hope the work I do is justfied. But probably should spend more time with 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.”
Think I’m doing well in this regard. Could do better of course. How agreeable are you?
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Another thing I think I’m doing well. While it’s important to know how to make friends, an even better idea is maintaining old friendships. Furthermore, it’s friends and work through which most people find their significant others.
“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.”
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.”
I’m not a huge fan of Apple or Steve Jobs for many obvious reasons. But Mr. Jobs did have this one golden nugget of wisdom that I carry with myself everyday. I feel like most days I’m happy to die. Because I’ve told people who I love that I loved them and I’ve worked on the projects that I’ve wanted to work on.
“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”Steve Jobs
The Bottom Line
The author points out something I’ve heard only once before: that modern people do not have a culture of understanding death. I attended a seminar on euthanasia a year ago. The experts on the panel: the doctors, policy makers and religious leaders said the same thing. Before we can talk about euthanasia we need to have a talk about how we handle death. Not just pallative care but also how we can gracefully take on death as a family.