For six years, I had the amazing gift of being able to experience with people their final days and weeks. For most, these last days and weeks were spent looking back over their lives in deep contemplation. Many regrets were expressed, and many tears were shed.
As a hospice social worker, I got a front row seat into the lives of those precious souls as they attempted to come to terms with how they spent their time on this earth. Everyone’s story was different, but each held common threads and similar regrets.
These missed opportunities expressed by people who were dying can teach us how to live a better life right now.
1. They wish they had loved more deeply.
This was a biggie. They expressed sadness over having not been more caring, understanding, and present for the ones they loved. They had deep regret over losing relationships due to their own need to be right. Many wished they had had the courage to say “I love you” to those that meant the most. They wished they had been a better parent or spouse and not taken their loved ones for granted.
Most of us have at least one important relationship in our life, that if we allowed ourselves to be more available and love more deeply, that relationship could be strengthened and transformed.
2. They wish they had lived their own dream.
They expressed that they had unfulfilled dreams because they were too busy trying to please others. They never allowed themselves to build and follow a path of their own choosing. Instead, they lived someone else’s dream for them, a dream that was not theirs to live. As a result, many never lived up to their full potential by discovering and living a life of fulfillment and purpose.
We can look into our own lives and see where we are living someone else’s dream. It takes courage to pursue the longings of our heart, but by doing so, we are true to ourselves and can experience a more gratifying life.
3. They wish they had spent less time working.
Many worked hard most of their lives. They regretted being absent from the important times in their kids’ lives. They wished they had been more available for their spouse. Most realized that although earning a living was important, it was not worth the time they lost by working long hours.
We all have to work, but we can be mindful that there are other things in life just as important as working. A good work/life balance will not only benefit ourselves, but it will allow us time to spend with the people that matter to us the most.
4. They wish they had allowed themselves to enjoy life more.
Most people wished they had allowed themselves to be happier and regretted taking life so seriously. At the end of their lives, they would have liked to have spent more time having fun instead of worrying about things beyond their control.
Having fun and enjoying life is the key to a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life; however, we are the only ones that hold this key. It is up to us to unlock our joy.
5. They wish they had not been so afraid to take risks.
Many people expressed they had lived cautiously and played it too safe. There were many things they wish they had pursued, but fear got in the way. Most people were afraid that taking a chance may result in failure, so keeping the status quo was a safer bet. As a result, there were regrets knowing that they could have lived a fuller, more satisfying life had they taken a few risks along the way.
Identifying one way to move beyond our familiar comfort zone each day will help us to take the risks we need to move forward. If we don’t take chances along the way, we can never achieve greatness. And isn’t a great life what we all want?
The most valuable lessons about life, I learned from the dying — and there is nothing I would trade for that experience.