An Australian nurse who spent years working with patients during their last weeks of life wrote a book called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” based on her conversations with her patients. After compiling the answers, Bronnie Ware, who worked in palliative care for years, said the most repeated regrets expressed by her patients were:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Ware explained, “My patients were those who had gone home to die, and some incredibly special times were shared. People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality, and some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected — denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again.”
Regarding the fifth regret, “I wish that I had let myself be happier,” the retired nurse said, “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.”
You are probably not surprised that the simple things in life are what most people wished for in the end. People. Family. Honesty. Integrity. Relationships. Those are the things we miss the most and regret the most when we are confronted with an expiration date on our lives.
As family and relationship expert Hellen Chen said, “The deepest regret that I have heard has been men and women missing out on the most important part of life: the quality of their relationship in a marriage and/or with their children. On our deathbeds, we would never regret not having worked that extra day in the office. But we will indeed regret not having worked on more understanding with our loved ones when we could.”
Is there a family member or a loved one with whom you need to make amends or draw closer to? Why not do it now? Tomorrow may be too late. Jesus Christ knew the importance of mending relationships. His advice was simple. At Matthew 5:23-25, Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and remember there that another believer has something against you, leave your gift at the altar. First go away and make peace with that person. Then come back and offer your gift.” — GOD’S WORD translation.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus says go and make peace with someone who “has something against YOU” even though you may feel that person should to come to you first? That is not the point. Pursing peace and mending relationships with love is the point. Does it matter if the “something” that the person has “against you” is trivial or petty? Should you disregard their feelings since your offense wasn’t intentional or it seems more in their head? Jesus did not focus on that. He simply says “make peace with that person.”
Why is peace so important? This not only helps the offended, but it helps you as well — giving both individuals a chance to find peace in life and be free from friction and strife. It is those kinds of things that experts say “eat at you” when you’re dying and have a chance to reflect on the more important things in life: Peace of mind. Kindness to others. Loving relationships.
Why does getting along in peace and love matter to the Almighty? John explained at 1 John 4:20-21: “If we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God if we don’t love the people we can see? The commandment that God has given us is: ‘Love God and love each other!’” — Contemporary English Version.
That puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? No matter how much good we do, we are still commanded to figure out a way to love one another, forgive one another and live in peace, or we will have a problem with God. We will also have a real problem with ourselves when we are forced to take inventory of our lives and look back on what really mattered.
How much better to apply Colossians 3:13-14 now. “Try to understand other people. Forgive each other. If you have something against someone, forgive him. That is the way the Lord forgave you.” — New Life Version.
Asking for and extending forgiveness is the best way to avoid most regrets now and in the future. It may be as Eleanora Duse said, “When we grow old, there can only be one regret — not to have given enough of ourselves.” May that regret not be in the form of failing to give enough to our spouse, our children, our friends and the God of peace.