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The top 5 regrets people had as they were dying. What can we learn from these?

As some of you may know, my father is dying. He is 98 and had been hoping to reach 99, even inviting the hospice nurse and caregivers to his birthday party. Our birthdays are on the same day, March 4th, and he may not make it that long. I have not had much experience with death, at least long and lingering death. My mom died unexpectedly at 52. Both grandfathers passed quickly as well. My favorite grandmother languished in a nursing home when I was a young adult, and I seldom saw her while busy establishing my own life.

He does not like it

Now I am older and no longer think that death or illness will never be mine. I watch the slow and painful progression of my father. What I do know is that he does not like it. When he was moved from his beloved lift chair to a hospital bed, he was able to whisper, “I am not happy with any of this.” He wants his floor-to-ceiling grab pole (affectionately called the “stripper pole”) back. He wants his scooter. He wants to get up but can no longer move his legs, or turn over or pull himself up. His body is giving up quicker than his mind.

Top five regrets of the dying

I recently read the top five regrets of the dying that Bonnie Ware, an Australian hospice nurse, learned from her patients. Here they are:

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 hadn’t worked so hard. Every male patient felt they missed their children’s youth and partners’ companionship.

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 I had let myself be happier. Realized that happiness was a choice.

Caregiving

My sister has been doing all of our father’s care for several years now. Caregiving is draining, exhausting and never far from mind. Even knowing that death is coming and unavoidable, she does everything she can to make it easier, more comfortable for him. It is not easier for her. I am barely a respite caregiver to give her a small break. I do not want my children to give themselves so fully in my last days. At least I say that now.

Learning

I do not know how or when this journey will end for him nor when my last RV ride to the sky will be either. The top five regrets of the dying give me pause.

1. True to self. I have no regrets about that one. I pretty much did what I wanted to do, instilled by my dad: “To thine own self be true.” He probably was not as thrilled with the saying when I refused to be a lawyer and became a hippie and artist instead… No worries. When I started working as a professional photographer and manager for a major corporation he relaxed. And I am now a full-time RVer. True to self!

2. Working hard. Yes, I worked too hard, just as my father had. My children and husband came second far too often. Yes, I missed their youth. I had the best career of a lifetime. Could I have woven them together better? Probably, but I would not give either up.

3. Courage to express feelings. Well, I’ll do better in my next lifetime.

4. Friends. I will commit to staying in touch with those friends that are close.

5. Happiness. Can I really choose to be happy? My husband laughs and jokes a lot. I am the more serious one. This living thing is serious business, after all! Perhaps, just perhaps, I can lighten up a bit, long enough to choose joy before the candle goes out.

Thank you

I must thank all of our wonderful RVtravel.com readers for their compassion, understanding and well wishes during this time. Wishing you lives full of health, happiness, and joy.

Related:

From Mental Health America: Bereavement and Grief

##RVT1028

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jillie
1 month ago

None of these applied to my mother after her diagnose. She lived a very full life. She did everything she wanted to do except see Portugal. Why we do not know. But she wanted to live long enough to see her granddaughter graduate from college and get married. These two did not happen. But right up to the end she kept a brave face. All I know is my regret is not getting her tested sooner. But what ever it happened and she is dearly missed. Now on to happy stuff.

jillie
1 month ago
Reply to  jillie

After thought. The care giving was split up between me and my brother. I took the nite shift one nite and it was harrowing. She woke up at 5 and said she need more O2, then water then something else. I feel I may have missed the O2. But at least she knew I was there to the end. I sure hope I die in my sleep.

Leslie P
1 month ago

I’ve been with many people as they passed, some very suddenly and some after a long drawn out illness. I worked hard on my career but I also was sure to play hard too. I have very few regrets because I had a career that was truly life threatening, I’ve always grabbed the brass ring and never worried about the consequences. I love how you two love your life and truly enjoy being a small part of it. Thanks for the great article

bull
1 month ago

Fortunately “I” will NOT have ANY of those regrets listed above!

Successful enough to become “Chronically Unemployed” at 43.

I took my young girls to school, dance, sports and everything else Dad’s NEVER git to do. I got to Grow Up with my girls! Yes I could have gone back to work and made a LOT more money over the last 20 years but why? I would not trade those years and memories with my young girls for all of Elon’s money and stuff!

Now the girls are in their mid and early 20’s and are now they are spreading their wings. The wife still runs her family business for a few more years and then who knows what the future will bring!

Your TIME and your Ability to Earn an Income are your most important personal assets. Figure out what’s important to you in life and find a way to make a living doing it. That way your TIME will be yours and you will never “Work” a day the rest of your life doing what you enjoy doing!

Caren L Kelly
1 month ago

March can always come early if need be. My Grandad was 99 and my Grandma was 91 and they passed 2 days apart. When he turn 90 he kept saying he was ready to go, he had one drink and a few puffs of his stogy every day. He said he had no regrets!

Drew
1 month ago

It’s an interesting article. Nanci, thanks for writing it. Sometimes I think about the things I could have done differently but it is what it is. I’m thankful that in retirement I’ve chosen to do very little- I didn’t want any demands on my time and when I worked, it was always for someone else’s benefit. I told myself then that I’d be very casual about my time after work. This is something I don’t regret. I’d try to reassure your Dad that he should be at peace with himself. Read to him, let him see your face as you do that. The sound of your voice is medicine.

Dick and Sandy near Buffalo, NY
1 month ago

Nanci, thanks for sharing. We are in our late 70’s and old age has caught up to us. My favorite saying is “If I knew I was going to live this long I would have take better care of myself”. Life becomes short when you can no longer do the physical things you used to do when you were younger. That is why as long as we have any of our health left we will continue to travel. Stay safe, Stay well

Sharon L Boehmer
1 month ago

Nanci, thanks for the well written article. My dad is 84, still pretty independent, speaks his mind in a thoughtful way, stays in regular contact with friends, including a couple from high school and feels he has led a good and happy life. My worry for him is how he will handle losing his independence, he really does not like having to ask anyone for help. I have learned to just do something for him, not ask, then apologize if he thinks I did it wrong and tell him I will do it better (more his way) the next time.

Lorna
1 month ago

Thought provoking article…thank you. I hope your Dad is able to live without pain, see his family, and have a grand 99th birthday celebration in March. Whatever the Universe chooses, may you all find peace.❤️❤️

DPHooper
1 month ago

Very well written and said, treasure every moment. My sisters and I cared for both of our parents as they failed in health , until the end for each. Would not trade any of that time, was very special aid for us all as they left earth.
I try to enjoy life but am also the more serious one. Reaching retirement and not having work has helped immensely in finding joy.

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles
1 month ago

I was a Hospice nurse for the last 24 years of my career, and I loved it. I used to tell families and patients when I was doing the initial assessment after enrollment was that we were NOT “giving up”, but were changing our goals. Maybe you’re not capable of flying to your granddaughter’s wedding in Boston in six months, but maybe you will be free of pain and they can make a trip to see you as part of their honeymoon. ETC.
I worked with an MSW who was very supportive of the child free lifestyle, and she told me once that all spouses who had chosen to be childfree regretted NOT having children. All them said If they HAD a child, they would have felt their spouse was still with them in some way. These were people who had good lives and chosen to be childfree. It took her by surprise. I am NOT casting aspersions on being childfree-just sharing what a grief counselor counselor told me. I assume that feeling was not permanent on their part.

wanderer
1 month ago

regarding the great insights in “Caregiving” paragraph.

A good friend nursed her husband through many years of Parkinson’s. When it was all over she surprised everyone by buying into a retirement community (with attached assisted living/nursing home for later), although still quite active and healthy. Ttwo reasons.

1. Her older friends said it would have been better to come in early, be active in the community of others, and then be among friends and professional caregivers at the end.
2. Unstated: she didn’t want any of her kids to go through what she went through, running a one bed hospital on 4 hours of sleep a night, family in chaos trying to cope.

Karen Grace
1 month ago

Nanci, thanks for this list, and your transparency in your own self-rating! Hope your dad’s journey ends in a way that blesses him and your family.

Jesse Crouse
1 month ago

Thankyou for sharing your personal story. Went thru much the same story myself.

Gary G
1 month ago

This article is too true in many ways. Gives one a lot to think about.

Scott R. Ellis
1 month ago

I just last night came across a piece of evidence that I have failed to pursue my dream. It is and continues to be a good life, and yet, my heart is a little bit broken this morning, too.

David J
1 month ago

Thank you for this wonderful, heartfelt expression!

Montgomery D. Bonner
1 month ago

Death is part of life. Don’t think we can have one without the other.