So if you knew you were going to die – say within the week; what would occupy your mind? I watched as my own Mom came to terms with her mortality and watched as she put herself into hospice care because she was at least on some level – ready to go. She didn’t share her thoughts with me, at least not in specific terms, but her morphine rants shed some light for me on the things that were still bothering her. A man she dated for a a long time who passed away from a heart attack that she had missed terribly for the last twenty years of her life, another man she loved who was gunned down in his driveway, visions of her adopted father and their loving yet turbulent relationship, a refusal to die until she was away from MY gaze.
I feel at least a little better that I had time to say goodbye and so did she. I was allowed the time to tell my Mom that is was okay for her to go and she was allowed the time to let me know that I was the greatest accomplishment in her life. It is different losing someone when you KNOW they are going to die than dealing with a sudden death. There are no insights when someone dies suddenly. With cancer though – you have time to think about things before you go. You have some time to reconcile your life and to share what is important to you with your loved ones. The thing is, none of us knows really how or when we are going to go – even if we have some terminal diagnosis and an arbitrary timeline for our eventual demise. So why wait for a terminal diagnosis to think back on our lives? Why wait to tell someone what you feel until you are on your death-bed?
I think about my life a lot. I also think abut my death a lot. Maybe more than most people do. I think it might be a little due to depression sometimes – but most of the time it is because I am feeling some regret about my life and want to change it before I die. I know Stephanie will read this and chant “God forbid” through this whole post – but we all die eventually. That is the one universal truth and yet we like to ignore it or create myths and beliefs that this physical death won’t be permanent (religion, metaphysics, paranormal beliefs etc.). Whether it is permanent or not, whether you believe in reincarnation, or heaven, or whatever – we really don’t know what happens when we die. All I really know for sure is that I have this life. I am living it. I make good and bad decisions. I have hurt people and they have hurt me. I can look into the past and use it to shape my future – or I can ignore it all until I am lying in a bed somewhere dying with no chance to really redeem myself or God forbid – something sudden happens and I leave the living people in my life with more questions than answers.
What got me started on this today was this post: Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
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. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”
2. I wish I hadn’t worked 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.”
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”
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.”
I think that these are the top five regrets of the living AND the dying. These five things are the reasons that people go through the whole “Mid-Life Crisis” and try to make huge changes all at once even without a terminal diagnosis or old age. I think we have several moments during our lives where we think about our mortality and what we can do to prevent it, enjoy the life we have, or just ignore the fact (of death) all together. For whatever reasons though – I think about it a lot from all angles. Regrets numbers 1 and 5 I think are the most important. Allowing ourselves to be happy is one of the hardest things we can do as human beings – we LOVE to suffer. Living true to ourselves – well most of us don’t figure out what that means until we are older and have had the chance to really evaluate our regrets. You have to have a life to look back on to realize that you have been existing for someone else, or for a belief that someone defined for you. 21 year olds aren’t thinking about how they could have had a better life experience – they are thinking about LIVING. When you hit 40 and you have to start getting mammograms and colonoscopies you start thinking about this stuff and evaluating what you could have done different, or what you want to accomplish before you die.
Personally, my deepest regret in my life is my addiction to alcohol and that I let drinking dictate what should have been the most fearless and adventurous time in my life. I am well traveled – but I would have probably seen the entire world by now if I hadn’t spent so much time drinking myself into a blackout. I have a million great memories that I only know about because people told me about them. I wasn’t actually there. I am working to change that – and have been successful – but at the same time, I don’t have the opportunities I had in my late twenties-early thirties. Now that I know what I know about life and just how precious it is – I don’t have the resources to enjoy it like I want too. So yeah – I regret my “wasted” years.
All I can really do now is to let myself be happy and live for myself. You know what though? Even though life isn’t perfect right now – it really IS perfect right now. I have the greatest love of my life. I have a home to live in with people who love me back. I have been blessed with the greatest friendships ever. I had a Mom who with all her faults – loved me like no one else ever will. I have seen more of the world than most people and I have had experiences that span from inspirational to devastating. I served my country. I graduated from college. I have taken care of the disabled and poor. I have performed on stage. I write. I laugh. I pray. I have a great life – and even my regret serves to remind me everyday that this life is precious.
I won’t spend too much time on my one real regret. I will however spend the rest of my life aware that my time here is limited and I have one chance to make the very best of it. My bucket list consists of two things – take advantage of opportunities and focus on life and living it rather than regretting my mistakes. We all make them [mistakes] it is what we learn from those mistakes that matters most.
I have lived a great life so far – and really, it is only getting better.