I recently discovered a post by Bronnie Ware on her blog Inspiration and Chai. It’s titled “Regrets of the Dying” and Bonnie wrote this after spending years working in palliative care. She noted that these were the regrets that popped up again and again from her patients. It struck me as being so relevant to the choices our family has been making over the last few years.
The entire post can be found here, and I encourage you to read it. After reading the article, I went through the list again and asked myself “What am I doing to ensure this isn’t my regret?”. I’m posting my responses here, and I encourage everybody to do this exercise yourself…
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life more true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
As a parent, I think this is particularly relevant. Have I planned my child’s life before she gets to choose it? Do I have expectations for the path she will take? How willing am I to let her forge her own way, create her own dreams, pass no judgements on her, and support her? Will my child feel that he is living his life for himself, or for his parent? This is one of many reasons why we unschool: I want my children to be free to walk the path they want to walk, without worrying about what their parents are expecting of them, without being held to someone else’s idea of success and happiness. I want them to spend their days enjoying the beauty of Nature, or engaging deeply in a creative pursuit that struck them in the moment and has them riding on a wave for hours. Instead of stressing over grades and college entrance and everybody else’s idea of what they are “supposed” to be doing. I want them to end their days feeling like they were true to themselves.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This sentiment was related to missing out on one’s children growing up and on spending time with spouses and good friends. Too many people wake up at the age of 40, realize they’re in the same job that was supposed to be a temporary thing until they did what they really wanted, and then discover that they’ve gotten themselves into a lifestyle that can’t afford for them to do anything different. Too many people don’t realize they have a choice. As Bonnie writes “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.” For us, simplifying our life meant me being able to stay at home with the children, keeping our children out of daycare and school, and allowing my husband to work from home so we could all spend more time together as a family. One day I’ll wake up and the kids will have moved out. I know I will miss them very much, but I’ll find comfort knowing I made the most of the time I had with them.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I’m hoping that by teaching my children to be aware of what they are feeling and how they are expressing it, rather than trying to control that expression through punishment, I’m giving them “emotional literacy”. And by raising children who are never expected to “obey”, who are welcome to express their opinion even if it runs counter to my own, who engage in problem solving as equal participants rather than subordinates…that all these things and more will give them the ability to express their feelings in a healthy way. Myself, I struggle with certain aspects of this, though usually my problems arise precisely from expressing my feelings (but with too little tact!).
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
While I felt confident answering all the points that came before, this is the one that really hit me hard, like a hammer in the chest. I have always been neglectful when it comes to calling my friends regularly. I think of them often, cherish them so much, but months will go by and I haven’t picked up the phone. There always seems to be an excuse, but in reading the comments of the dying with respect to this one point, I am suitably motivated to make some changes in this area of my life. I’m very grateful for this.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
As Bonnie writes “many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice”. Thankfully, I’ve already accepted this lesson and I try to practice it every day, in myriad different ways. I’ll expand more in a later post about the power of acceptance and recognizing one’s own power to be happy, but suffice it to say for now that I wish more people understood this before they lay on their deathbed. It’s not a done deal, it’s a process. I’ve accepted it as a truth, but now I’m working to apply it to various aspects of my life.
Not everybody in our world has the power to control their lives. Too many live in conditions where they lack the power or the resources to do more than struggle to survive on a daily basis. I can only speak for my own culture and from my own contextual experience. But in our society there is enough wealth and opportunity that everybody can exercise some degree of choice over the path they take, though some may need to start much earlier in life (and there’s the rub of brainwashing kids with the idea that the only path to success is college and the high-paying jobs that are supposed to come with it). With proper planning, saving, avoiding debt, and embracing simplicity we free ourselves from the nine-to-five rat race, from the endless spiral of consumerism and wealth accumulation that robs us of our freedom, and create space in our lives for the things that matter the most. Ask yourself, when you are lying on your deathbed, what will you regret? And then do something about it now.