Monday, December 13, 2010

Into the sunset.

Today for class we took a field trip.
No permission slips and we didn't even get to take a bus,
but we did go to nursing homes and
interview seniors.

Eileen was 85.
She used to be the secretary for the dean of the medical school.
She had a beautiful 13-year-old granddaughter.
Her kids had taken away her 'wonderful, perfect Camry'.
She remembered the ration stamps from WWII,
but thought it was January.
She said she wasn't 'one of those diseased people' when I asked her about medical issues,
but her chart had a decent list.

We had a lot of fun,
and then she saved me a seat next to her for the Christmas carol sing along.
It was awesome.

It was amazing perspective.
About what is important in life.
About not taking myself so seriously.
About how even though I usually feel haggardly tired and keep getting lectured about my declining fertility in class,
really my story is just beginning.
There's so much left to unfold.
To discover.

Then, while I was "studying", I found these 5 Most Common Regrets
compiled by a palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware.
I think it says it all pretty perfectly.
Laugh, hug your friends, be honest, take a break, and follow your dreams.
What else are you here to do?

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 honoured 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 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.


"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live."

-Norman Cousins


  1. K, thank you for this. I needed it at the end of a day of uncertainty.

  2. Lauren! You have a blog! How did I not know this?! I'm so excited. And I hope your day ended well...I'll be in Spartanburg the 26th..see you then?

  3. I like the last one: letting yourself be happier. I sometimes feel like we resist the pull towards the activities, places, and people we love because we don't feel like we "should" want that. such a lovely post!

  4. Perfect! I'm spreading this like a virus.