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The Top Five Regrets of Those Facing Death

Updated: Mar 15, 2023



What would you regret if you knew you only had a few months to live?

I will always remember my call to Sheila. It was the most sobering call I’ve ever made. Sheila and her husband David were clients in their late fifties. They were the salt of the earth folk.

It was a Monday afternoon. I figured Sheila would probably still be at work, so I thought I’d leave a message for her to call me to schedule an appointment. One of her bonds had come to maturity. We should meet for an annual review and discuss investing the cash in her account.

It could happen to anyone.

To my surprise, she answered her phone. I told her it surprised me to have caught her at home. Then she dropped the bombshell. “Jennifer, my doctor has given me about a week to live. Cancer has returned.”

Sheila had been free of cancer for just over five years. And now, it has returned and ravaged her body. What do you say to someone when they tell you they only have a week left to live?

I said, “I am so sorry,” and offered, “Is there anything I can do for you?” The minute I heard my words, I realized they sounded ridiculous, considering what she was experiencing. I mean, what could I do for her?

Things take on a different perspective.

As she faced her mortality, her investments were of little importance. And she would never make it for her annual review, where we’d discuss her retirement plan and financial goals for the rest of her life. Because there would not be any “rest of her life.” Sheila died within that week.

Fifty-eight is too young to die. But we don’t get to negotiate with death. All we can do is make the best of life. And we can learn many life lessons from people facing their death.

The Top Five Regrets of The Dying.

An inspiring bestseller written by hospice nurse Bronne Ware called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” are lessons from terminally ill people on how to live fully.

Bronne Ware compiled a list of the greatest regrets her patients expressed to her as they were dying:

Regret #1 I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This regret struck me more than the others. How many of us have lived our lives to meet the expectations of our families and communities? Sometimes to our detriment.

Regret #2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Men primarily articulated this regret. Society values drive and hard work as the blueprint for a life of success. But so many of us are burnt out.

No matter how much they enjoyed their jobs, I don’t believe anyone would wish they had clocked in more hours at work. It would be best to choose fulfilling work since you’ll spend most of your life at work unless you become financially free at a very young age.

Regret #3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Our fear of the consequences of expressing our feelings may be what silences us from speaking that truth. Our fear of disapproval and rejection stop us from showing up fully and authentically.

We fear we may hurt others if we express our true feelings. But, in reality, by expressing our feelings, we permit others to do so.

Regret #4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Friends come and go -maybe a little too easily. With access to social media, it appears more accessible than ever to stay in touch today. But are we connecting? Are you committed to working through disagreements and misunderstandings?

Regret #5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

This regret initially surprised me till I thought about it a little deeper. We appear to chase happiness-its even in the U.S. declaration of independence. With the explosion of positive psychology, you’d think we’d have nailed it.

But are we truly happy?

Mental Health America states, “In 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, 19.86% of adults experienced a mental illness.”

They also inform us that “suicidal ideation continues to increase among adults in the U.S. And a growing percentage of youth in the U.S. live with major depression.” So why does a country that appears to have so much so sad?

Maybe, that’s the problem. The relentless chase! Happiness is not something you chase — it’s something you are. So allow yourself to be happy.

Living Without Regret

I will never know if Sheila had any regrets as she was dying. We don’t have to face death to regret our choices. As you reflect on your life up to this point, what would be your greatest regret?

What can these five regrets teach you about what is most meaningful in our lives? Choose now to live fully, authentically, and without regret.

I have changed the names of the people in this story for confidentiality reasons.

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