Dying wishes and regrets

June 3, 2011 | Uncategorized

My OSV Daily Take post from yesterday:

A couple of events this week got me thinking about my own mortality. First, I spent some time visiting a friend who is in the end stages of ovarian cancer after a valiant years-long fight. She is now in hospice home care. As I sat in her living room, I quietly soaked in my friend’s strength and faith and courage and grace. It was only when I got back in my car that I broke down in tears at the awesomeness of being in the presence of someone who is very much aware that her time on this earth is coming to an end.

That was enough to start me thinking about life and death, but then along came today, June 2. My mother would have been 71 today, but she died of colon cancer more than 23 years ago at the age of 47. Reflecting on the gift of her life makes me ponder my own life and eventual death –that I have already lived longer than my mother, that any day I, too, could get a diagnosis that changes life permanently and ends it all too quickly, that my children might find themselves marking the milestones of their lives minus their mother.

Just the other night, I was so preoccupied with all these thoughts I couldn’t sleep. At all. I remembered how my mother had so many long, sleepless nights at the end of her illness, and I wondered if that is the case for my friend as well. So I did what my mother used to do during those difficult hours. I pulled out my Rosary beads and prayed — for my friend, with my friend — allowing my minor bout of insomnia to lead me into a moment of connection with someone who knows true suffering. I can’t begin to know what my friend is going through, and yet in the hidden hours of night, in those prayers silently whispered, I felt a spark of grace, a second of recognition, a flash of what my mother must have felt, what my friend must feel now.

So today, when two Facebook friends posted a link to a column about deathbed regrets, I saw it as an invitation to explore further what I’d been mulling over in my head.

What do you think terminal patients regret most as they lay dying? Not the job promotion that was missed or the raise they didn’t get or the car they didn’t own. The top five regrets had to do with the way they’d lived their lives, the people they didn’t keep in touch with, the way they spent their time:

From a blog post at Inspiration and Chai:

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 realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.

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…

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize 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.

After my mother died, having witnessed her last breath, I was sure I’d never go back to taking life for granted, and maybe for a few months after her death I didn’t. But then life went on and it became easier and easier to slip back into the notion that we have a limitless amount of time to get things done, to make amends, to play with our kids, to fulfill our dreams.

If today was my last day, I know my regrets would have nothing to do with any work project or household responsibility. My regrets would be, like those of the patients who were surveyed, about the time I didn’t spend with my husband and children, the friends I didn’t call, the time I didn’t take for prayer or gardening or all the things that bring me joy, the times I gave up the opportunity to laugh because I thought it was my job to worry.

What would you put on a list of regrets?

To read the full list at Inspiration and Chai, click HERE.


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