Learning to Live: Life lessons of the dying

Bronnie Wares was a palliative care nurse for many years, taking care of the dying in their homes.  The precious days and weeks she spent with these patients taught her many valuable life lessons, and provided her with a wealth of insights—not about dying, but about living. 

As her patients faced their mortality, Bronnie would talk with them about their greatest joys and their deepest regrets.  The joys always centered on love, family, and friendship.  When asked about regrets, she found there were some reoccurring themes among her patients.

Here are the five most common:


  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.   This is the most common regret of all because it is tied to unfulfilled dreams.  Our true selves dream of the things we want to do, hope to do, believe we can do.  It’s the voice inside us that motivates us towards our true life calling.  But often, that inner voice is drowned out by need, responsibilities, expectations, and other voices.  We need to learn to hear our own inner voice above all the other white noise in our lives. Only then can we live authentically.  
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.  This was most common among men, but also some women.  They deeply regretted putting work ahead of their family time.  They missed their kids growing up.  They missed the relationship they could have had with their partner, if only they had been able to spend more quality time together.  No one facing their final days has ever said, “Gee, if only I had worked harder, or stayed at the office a little bit longer.”  Make time for the people and things that truly matter. 
  3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.  Suppressed feelings can literally make us sick.  That’s why it’s so important to be honest about our own thoughts and feelings.  Many times we avoid expressing ourselves because we’re trying to ‘keep the peace,’ but it’s when we open up and speak honestly that we give our relationships an opportunity to grow and deepen to new levels. 
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.  It is often said that friends are the family we choose for ourselves.  They become our voice of reason during times of struggle, our sounding boards when we need advice, and our partners in both laughter and tears through all of life’s ups and downs.  Friends are critical to our happiness.  And even if you’ve lost touch, true friends can always pick up just where they left off.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.  In our constant striving for bigger and better, we often forget to be happy and content with what we have.  We’re so busy focusing on our goals that we forget to be grateful for our successes. We must allow ourselves time to be present, to be in the moment, and to be happy with ourselves and our lives.  Things don’t have to be perfect to be happy. 

The life we live is our choice.   Each of us must choose to be honest and true to our own convictions.  Only then can we live a life of happiness, with no regrets.  Let’s allow the lessons of the dying to teach us what it means to truly live. 


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