Top five regrets

I know you come here for my thoughts and not email forwards but I do want to share it with you since I don’t have the time to write. I’m also in the middle of a lot here so this email couldn’t have come at a better time. A prospective career change, a house move, a huge party (my dad turns 60 this year and I’m hoping for the biggest, bestest party ever) and some other life decisions. Pray that I make the right choices for myself.

Nurse reveals the top 5 regrets people make on their sickbed 


For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die.

Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality.
I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

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 honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work 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.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

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.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

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

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. It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and  relationships.

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. When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

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44 thoughts on “Top five regrets

  1. You, my dear, would never have these regrets. Except maybe, ‘I wish I’d taken better care of my knee’.

    Very timely post… I am torn between joining back and taking long career break.

  2. Beautiful Beautiful Beautiful!
    “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
    I hope I have the courage some day. If I weren’t so bothered about what people will think, my life would be so different and so much better 😦 My husband tells me I’m caught between wanting to live my life my way and wanting other people’s approval, and that I have to choose one and let the other one go 😦

    • I think figuring out where you’re going wrong is the first step. And husbands are always quick to point out where we’re messing up 😉 Now you know, so what do you plan to do about it?

      • Oops I meant to post the comment here!

        To start with I’m going to make a new year resolution – to not change anything about me, and accept myself as I am. Next, I guess I’ll learn to ignore the random friends, aunties and uncles who judge the way I live 🙂

  3. Thats the technique I have been using off late when I’m making decisions, and I believe there are no insignificant decisions in life. Everything you decide is important. So I think whether I’ll regret my decision on my death bed. I make decision based on the answer. Very simple and effective and comes with no guilts whatsoever. Everything happens for a higher purpose anyway 🙂

  4. To start with I’m going to make a new year resolution – to not change anything about me, and accept myself as I am. Next, I guess I’ll learn to ignore the random friends, aunties and uncles who judge the way I live 🙂

  5. Beautiful to read. Enjoyed it as much as your usual posts. Although I don’t think I can say ‘usual’ anymore – you write about so much more than your babies! 🙂 Will be sending these to some people who I think would enjoy it 🙂
    Thanks MM! Take care of the knee – you don’t want that regret 🙂

    • But I’ve always written about more than my babies. And then in between I got a lot of trolls so I stopped writing on stuff other than the babies because they seemed to object to me having an opinion on anything unrelated to kids. Now I don’t care what anyone says….
      And thank you 🙂

  6. 4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
    Guilty , guilty, guilty. Barely remember to call them on their birthdays. 😦

    2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
    Gosh! I wish I do. I run away to my kids when everyone is working and am slipping in career big time. Makes me feel miserable. 😦 Happiness is a complex thing. Can a choice really make you completely happy? Aren’t you missing what you did not choose? Isn’t there a tug in your heart somewhere?

  7. I think I’d read this forward sometime before, but it still helped to read it again. It just helps sometime to read something like this and get so many things from your own life in perspective. Thanks for sharing. And all the best for the career change, house move and party plans!

  8. Hi MM,

    Good forward..point 5 is so true..

    Good luck with house move and career change..
    and my very best wishes to your dad on his turning 60…

  9. You know my dilemma right, I even emailed you long back. I wish I could just quit and follow my dreams of becoming a full time jewelry designer… sigh..I am still doing this on a part time mode, but have made around 25 necklaces in 1 year. Something I could do in 3 or 4 days if I give it some time.

    • I do know your dilemma and I wonder if you could take a sabbatical? We’re all so scared. So scared that life will pass us by and we’ll never get our careers back. What is a career? Why has it become such a big thing? Why have we allowed ourselves to idolise people who have an excess of money and a paucity of time? Maybe they enjoy it – but are we enjoying it? Who decided we must work 8 hours a day at at desk and not 4 hours? Who says you have to buy a house at 30? My dad didn’t. His dad didn’t either.
      I feel very sick and tired of milestones being set for babies and adults alike!

      • But MM, the standards have already been set and not complying with them doesn’t seem to help my case. I am scared that I will be denied my share of humanity (love, respect etc) if I do not fall in line. What shall I do?

        • I’m not sure that is true, Imran. For instance, most of the OA’s friends are following the traditional milestones and seem to be up to it. My friends, by and large are all on their own trip. Most of the women are single. They live alone, they make unusual choices, none of them have bought a house, they change their careers at the drop of a hat, some have forged to the top… but they’re all setting their own goals and milestones and I don’t see them being denied love or respect. Think about it – do you want that love and respect from people for the person you are or for the role that you fulfill? It’s one good way to test your friends and see which ones are true and stand by you.

      • ditto ditto ditto..
        what i’ve come to realise is a lot of those milestones arent set by us, for ourselves. they’re imposed and somewhere down the line we’ve internalised them and gotten trapped in this race to reach them. my struggle is in finding a middle path. i cannot give up my career, not at this point in my life, but im trying hard to balance it out in a way that it doesnt eat into my life. and its bloody tough. sometimes i just want to give it all up and go sit on the beach and read and write.

          • Depends what profession you’re in I guess. Its tough in my line of work. But some forward looking organisations do encourage and offer ways to do it. I’ve seen some people manage it pretty well, and it inspires me to keep trying..

  10. Hi MM,

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, and it’s quickly shot up to the top of my favourites. Your writing is so real, and articulate, it really is a joy to read.
    I’m turning 20 in a few days but I guess some regrets start early. The only real regret I have so far is this one occasion when I was rude to my Grandpa when he interrupted me during my classical music riyaaz. He had Alzheimers’ and I was about 8 at the time. It’s something that I guess I’ll always carry guilt for (he passed away when I was 14). In a weird way it sort of drives me to be kind to people today, and be more compassionate instead of reacting with my usual short temper.

    • 😦 I’m sorry about that one. There is little you can do to right it now – other than what you are doing, which I think is great for someone who is still in her teens. But in your defence, an 8 year old can’t always be counted on for compassion and understanding. Do you think you could forgive yourself? I’ve had 3 Alzheimer’s patients in my life and I can tell you he might not have remembered it after five minutes. It doesn’t really help I know, but well… hug?

  11. I’ve started on 1 & 5 now.I owe thanks to your blog for reminding me to do so.
    2 -Will take a little more time now.
    3 -some peoplle think I overdo:)
    4- I’m guilty of letting go of so many old friends except for two
    My prayers are with you.God bless!

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