I first saw "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying" - a three page article that had evolved from author Bronnie Ware's blog, "Inspiration and Chai" - in late 2011. It has since gained international exposure with subsequent syndication and publication on high traffic Internet sites such as the Huffington Post and The Guardian.
The topic of `the regrets of the dying' resonated as I had worked in the early 1980s with physicians at Comprehensive Cancer Centers on new medical devices to assist in the treatment of cancer. As part of my work, I met and talked with many people who were facing certain death - children, young adults, adults, and elderly. It was a profound and transformative experience, one which I refer to often, particularly when counseling others on life. There is no better way to learn about life and how to live than to spend time with those who are dying. Ware captures these lessons and more in her "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying."
In a conversation prior to reading the book, Bronnie warned me that I might find the book disappointing as it was more about her life journey so I approached the book with some caution. She was wrong, "The Top Five Regrets" far exceeded my expectation and, yes, it included the story of her own journey - a story rooted in a failed relationship, restlessness, beauty, human dignity, love of the other, self-discovery, and eventually personal redemption as she "truly cared" for those who were dying; a story that added fabric to her learnings, learnings that healed and transformed her as she surrendered to the truths of life. This is a book I will savor for years to come.
Ware poignantly shares her stories of Agnes, Jozsef (94), Anthony (late 30s), and 15 others who face death within days to weeks after becoming their primary "carer." The stories are those all will relate to - stories of family dysfunction, alcohol abuse, blind dedication, lost friendships, romance and lifelong loving partners, poor habits, personal identity, family expectations, courage, overcoming loss, and much more. Ware's own story deals with self-acceptance, inner feelings, unhealthy patterns, and discovering her inner beauty. She almost succumbs to a depression that comes after she leaves palliative care and considers suicide. Her guardian angel, a call from out of nowhere, shakes her from her despair and moves her to choose life.
The top five regrets which Ware found as common themes of the dying that surfaced again and again were:
* Regret 1 - I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself not the life others expected of me.
* Regret 2 - I wish I didn't work so hard.
* Regret 3 - I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
* Regret 4 -I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
* Regret 5 - I wish I had let myself be happier
There are many memorable passages and quotable phrases in "The Top Five Regrets" including the following insight:
"Our society has shut death out, almost a denial of its existence. This denial leaves both the dying and the family or friends totally unprepared for what is inevitable. We are all going to die. But we try to hide it. We carry on trying to validate ourselves through our material life and associated fearful behavior instead...If we are able to face our own inevitable death with honest acceptance before we reach that time, we can shift our priorities well before it is too late. Once we recognize that limited time is remaining, we are less driven by ego or by what other people think of us. Instead, we are driven by what our hearts really want. This acknowledgement offers the opportunity to find greater purpose and satisfaction in the time we have remaining."
For this reason alone, I highly recommend "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying" for all who are living. Our time is shorter than we think...
As a postscript. I learned from Bronnie's assistant that Bronnie gave birth to her first child earlier this year, a little girl. As a father who was a single parent of two, and now with an extended family of four children, and ten (ten more arriving in mid-late 2012)grandchildren, I know from personal experience that Bronnie has eliminated one major regret by giving birth and starting a family. Loving another unconditionally and being loved unconditionally by another is THE most important experience life offers.
Bronnie, congratulations on the gift of life given to you; and thank you for your gift about life which you have given to us.