My Top Five Regrets

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jun 02, 2012

“If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.”
Mercedes Lackey

Bonnie Ware, an Australian nurse, has spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives.  As Ware walked with her patients through the final stages of their lives, she witnessed how many of her patients gained “phenomenal clarity of vision” as they approached death.

Ware claims, “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common theses surfaced again and again.”  According to Ware, these are the top five regrets of the dying:

I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.   Bonnie Ware added, “Health brings a freedom few realize, until they no longer have it.” It is easy for all of us to be persuaded to live our lives in ways that focus on what others want for us rather than being true to ourselves.  We have all heard stories of children going into the family business simply because of a parent’s wishes, only to realize too late that their deep passion was set aside.

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.  Ware observed, “This (regret) came from every male patient that I nursed.”  Hard work seems to be a double-edged sword.  Without it, we will not succeed.  With it, we may not succeed.  Somehow, we must find the balance so we don’t someday look back with regret.

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.  “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others….Many (patients) developed illnesses related to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”  I think this is more a male problem than a female problem.  When Evie and I first met I had the hardest time expressing my feelings.  As a Pennsylvania Dutch farm boy who grew up in a culture where you kept your feelings to yourself, you can only imagine the challenges I had.  In fact, I had a hard time saying “I love you” so I substituted “I appreciate you.” To this day Evie reminds me how she got so very tired of being “appreciated.”

I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.  “There are many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.  Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”  One of the best uses of the internet is the way it allows us to re-connect with friends from over the years.  And perhaps the easiest way to do that is with Facebook.  Evie and I love the way a few letters on a keyboard can bridge the gap of time and space.  Just the other day I posted something and before I knew it there was a note from Jim Reid, a college friend from 47 years ago. 

I wish I’d let myself be happier.  “Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice.  They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits.”  We all know that happiness can be a slippery quality to find and keep.  Sometimes it is like humility…the minute we think we have it, we don’t.  It is almost impossible to seek happiness.  But, if we pour our lives into something that matters, we find happiness following us around like a shadow.  John Rohn said, “If you don’t like how things are, change it.  You’re not a tree.”

Since no one is perfect, we will probably all have items on our regret list. We don’t have to think very hard to find them.  Some of them may be passing decisions which have almost faded from memory like a wisp of smoke out of an old chimney.  Others may have shaken the very foundations of our lives.

But we all have today and on this day we can all make decisions we will not regret tomorrow.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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