Imagine that you have almost reached the finish line of your life’s journey. You take a moment to consider how far you’ve come and what your life has meant to you and to others. Along with all of the actions that have given you joy or a sense of pride, will you have any regrets?
Common End-of-Life Regrets
Professor Amy Summerville who studies regret says that it means “feeling bad because things could have been better if we had done something differently in the past.” Bronnie Ware, a nurse who spent years caring for people at the end of their lives asked her patients if they had any regrets. She discovered five themes that emerged again and again. One of the most common regrets involved not living the life that they wanted to live or not following their dreams. Other regrets included spending too much time working hard rather than living life, suppressing feelings to keep the peace, losing touch with friends, and failing to choose happiness.
Grace Bluerock, a social worker who spent six years working in hospice care also identified common themes of regret among those at the end of life. Some of these themes were similar to the ones Ware had identified. She noted that “Many people expressed sorrow for not having been more understanding, caring, and present for the people who were important to them.” Other common themes included wishing they had been a better spouse (or parent, or child), wishing they had not spent so much time working, wishing they had taken more risks and had more fulfilling lives, and wishing they had enjoyed life more.
A Samaritan hospice blog listed additional life regrets of near-death patients. These additional regrets included not resolving conflicts, not saying “I love you” more, not saving enough for retirement, and not taking better care of themselves.
Seeing Regrets in a New Way
Reaching the end of life with major regrets is probably not how most of us envision reaching the finish line. But can any of us live our lives without regret? Probably not. Regret may be one of the more common emotions most people regularly experience. However, that doesn’t mean we have to carry regret with us for our entire journey. Years ago, my sister, Pepper, challenged me to see ‘regret’ in a new way.
Unlike individuals at the very end of life, we still have an opportunity to learn from our regrets and then potentially correct a situation or avoid making the same choices in the future. For example, Pepper realized that she regretted not doing more of what she loved earlier in life. Because of this realization, she is now more aware and focused on doing the things she loves.”
My Choice with No Regrets
I have lived long enough to have plenty of regrets. I am learning to make different choices when possible. A couple of years ago, one of those choices involved leaving my career three years before I had originally planned to do so.
If I had worked three more years, I would have been in a slightly better position in retirement. I enjoyed my job teaching, but also knew it consumed much of my time—days, evenings, and weekends—during the school year and beyond. The last year I taught, I started to develop some stress-related health problems. My husband also had experienced health issues during that same year. A part of me wanted to keep pushing through – to keep working, no matter what. But another part of me knew the price I would pay for ignoring the things in life that really mattered.
When I ended my teaching career two years ago, I considered what mattered to me most and then based my decision to leave on my values and my priorities. My health has improved, my husband’s health has improved, I don’t experience much stress, and I feel like I am finally enjoying life to the fullest. I haven’t regretted leaving my career for even a moment. In a sense, I am living my new life with no regrets.