Some of my patients had asked me to share their learning onward, to ensure others didn’t make the same mistakes. So when I was contacted by an agent to write a book and share more about the regrets, it was an honor to be able to tell the stories more fully. It was only as a memoir showing how the regrets of the dying transformed my own life was I able to fully articulate their power and to make them more relatable.
Most people cannot truly imagine themselves on their deathbed. So giving real life examples of how you can apply the learning now was the most powerful representation of the message I’d been bestowed.
Ware: They are:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
(Read more about each of these regrets here.)
Caprino: How were these lessons transformative for you personally?
Ware: The regrets of the dying helped me understand how sacred time is. I realized that the pain of breaking through any amount of resistance would never be as heart-wrenching as lying on my deathbed with regrets. This has propelled an ever-expanding habit of courage that has shown me how we are all so much more capable than we realize. We just need the courage to get out of our own way.
The third regret of wishing I’d had the courage to express my feelings has also liberated me enormously. Silence and introversion used to be my coping mechanisms. But unexpressed feelings just eat away inside.
Witnessing the pain of this regret on numerous occasions gave me the courage to become as fully honest and open as possible, which has completely changed who I am in the best ways. It has not only brought me a deeper sense of peace and pride in who I am, but has also added immense richness to the quality of relationships I now enjoy both personally and professionally.
Caprino: If you could share what you’ve seen as the one most painful and heart-wrenching regret that the dying have, what would you say it is?
Ware: Wishing you’d live a life true to yourself, not the life other people expected of you.
Whether those other people are family, peers, or society, makes no difference. The utter heartache of dying with that regret, because you didn’t bring enough courage to the choices you made, is a painful way to end your life.
Witnessing this regret on repeated occasions, in people from all walks of life, was powerful beyond measure. To grasp that you made the wrong choices (or didn’t bring enough awareness or courage to the choices you did make) and then be too ill to do anything about them, is a shockingly difficult realization to accept.
Caprino: You talk in your book about how living with harsh judgments of others and ourselves hurts us and keeps us from being happier. What instead can help our hearts and lives be happier and freer and more rewarding?
Ware: By realizing mistakes are a part of life. They are how we learn. None of us are perfect, nor are we meant to be. So the more you understand this, the more patience and compassion you develop for other people and yourself. We’re all just doing the best we can with individual gifts to contribute to the whole picture. There is no set formula for how you have to live your life.