The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

By Bronnie Ware on Wednesday February 3rd, 2016

A nurse in end-of-life care shares the most common regrets of the dying

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind.

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. 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, every one of them.

Alt text herePeople grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

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 realise 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 honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

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.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

Alt text hereWe often regret the things we didn’t say

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.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise 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.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

Alt text hereMany don’t realise til the end that happiness is a choice

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

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

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Based around this article, Bronnie has released a full length book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.




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66 Responses to The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

  1. You youngsters in your sixties are foolish. What if you live another thirty years, like me. People are living linger. I feel so lucky to still be alive. Every day is a gift. From God? I don’t know, but I am grateful for every day. Be happy, all of you. That is the only thing that matters. And be grateful for each day.

  2. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker who has been conducting a little research on this.
    And he actually bought me dinner simply because I
    stumbled upon it for him… lol. So let me reword this….
    Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending
    some time to talk about this issue here on your
    web site.

  3. Unlike many, I have lived my childhood dreams almost completely. I will soon attain the age of 76 and am growing ill. Death holds few concerns for me. I was seriously injured at age 22 and lay on the verge of death. It was the most sublimely peaceful moments of my life. I have outlived more friends and associates than I can count. I am loved by a wonderful lady and my devoted old dog. I hope that she goes before me. It would grieve me deeply to leave the two of them behind. Unlike many, I have truly lived!

  4. I believe a lot of these can be corrected if caught in time. No matter the illness or disability. Its never too late to try to do things you love with people you love and care for.

  5. I hope when it’s my time I go out with some degree of dignity. I like to think that I made some contribution to civilization. I am a war vet which I am proud of

  6. 2011, I was so happy to have been able to make my moms passing EVERYthing she hoped for in both palliative and hospice days. Retired from the medical field, i was outa the loop denial, but mom said, “i want to be with my dear Lord”. I did remember to open the window, so mom could fly with angels, but it was the last half hour of her life, the “death rattle” that i completely lost it. Everything culminated towards that last “Ha” life giving breath that we all share (Alo to be in the presence of) (Ha, breath)

  7. Very good, truthful. I went trouh that experiencia with a very dear friend.
    When my mother passed away I was so devastated and thants to a tananthologist I survived.
    Nos I just tiene 70 in graet health but, we NEVER know…

  8. I enjoyed the article and most of the comments while following the advice given. I found most have scrambled brains with PTSD and used EFT, EMDR, meditation, journaling, dream analysis, forgiveness, surrender, loving as a priest, chaplain in Prisons, Addiction Centers, and Hospices and now retired active in volunteer work feeding the homeless and hungry.

  9. I am 85 and have none of these regrets. I always did what I wanted to do, went wherever I wanted to go, said what I wanted to say etc. etc. etc. I might add that although I did all those things I made sure that I hurt no one, whilst I was living my life.

  10. Amazing! I also work with the dying and am trying hard to live my life not having those regrets. Thank you for all those who share with us their wisdom.

  11. I am surprised nobody regretted not being kinder to others. This is my biggest regret although I hope I will live a bit longer yet

  12. The article (like all articles) has an unstated value system behind it. This particular one contains things like “living is better than dying”, “having no or fewer regrets is better than having regrets”, “happiness is better than unhappiness”, “living consciously (so called) is better than living unconsciously”, and so on. I wonder if the author is aware how and where these values got programmed into them? I wonder if the author considered any of this?

    I choose to believe that I’m okay exactly as I am, whether I’m peaceful/regretful, happy/unhappy, young/old, spending lots of time with my sons/working a lot, whatever. Doesn’t mean my emotional system doesn’t throw me through a loop sometimes, but intellectually, I can understand what’s happening and eventually distance myself from the incessant clamourings of my unconsciously-chosen value system.

    What’s wrong with being a grumpy old regretful fart on his death bed?!

    There’s no wrong way to live.

    • You’re absolutely right Sandy. If being grumpy is your conscious choice, knock yourself out – to each his own. I sometimes tempt myself with such a prospect, but when I realize that it would require the same amount of effort as anything else, I lose interest. Besides that, there’s no shortage of folks that are really good at being grumpy in this world.

  13. This was a great article. I know many people my age (60’s) who are filled with regret. I am not. I chose my own path a long time to the dismay, bewilderment and anger of my family. If I had lived by their (low) expectations of what they thought my life should have been… I would have been a housewife, mother of three with a high school education (since “girls don’t go to college”) and miserable.. As it is, I have a Master’s degree, traveled the world (still do), married at 47, no kids, had a great career, and have a wonderful marriage to the best guy ever! My life has been an amazing ride and I am thankful for it. We all must be true to who we are and follow our own paths.

  14. At 68 my mind is still sharp but my body is becoming weak. As a Buddhist I know that I have made great strides in my journey to enlightenment. I’ve learned much but still have much to learn. My life has been one of adventure and I have few regrets and I’m comfortable with myself. To the young people I would advise, Follow your dream. Don’t be afraid to “Go for it”. I hope that my next life will be at least as great an experience as this life has been.

  15. regrets not seeing my dad alive on his death bed i called him and mom was holding the phone as soon as i called he told me he hurt alot and dad i,m on my way to ,ialso hurt to vietnam ,life , job losses ,friends turning there backs on me. being alone hurt i,m to blame to ptsd wrecked my life

    • I feel that way to an extent with ptsd, friends go away, life goes on though . . . make new friends . . .heal . . .life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.

  16. I agree with the sentiments in this article. In the end all that matters is what we can take with us in our hearts. I lost my youngest son last year and he was only 31 years old. Since his death I can’t help but live a more authentic life. My priorities have changed and I no longer engage in conversations or events I do not want to be part of. I waste no time on trivial things, nor do I participate in acitivities or realationships that cause worry, stress or anxiety. My occupation is simply a tool used to gain resources (money and paid time off) that allow me to do what I want to do with my free time. Before his death, I needed things, this is no longer true and I do more for others than for myself. I get great satisfaction from helping others. I have a “new normal” and spend more time doing the things I love and less of what I do not. This is how my son lived his charitable life and I honor him. I am also trying to take better care of myself, eating better, sleeping better, reading, listenign to my favorite music and engaging in my artwork. I have also become more spiritual. I started to pray before my son became ill, during and now all of the time afterward….believe it or not most of my prayers have been answered, with the exception of my son’s life. My only regret is that I did not start living this way sooner and while my son was still alive. He would have loved to see my tranformation into happier. I do have one more regret….I , too as you, Bonnie mentioned in your article wished I would have spent more quality time with my sons when they were younger. I was a single mom for 15 years and had to work to work two jobs most of the time.

  17. I have none of these regrets precisely because I took the hardest road of all. I faced all of my fears and stayed true to myself. I fought the church, the state and all of society to be myself, during a time when it was unpopular and dangerous to do so (1970’s-’80’s). Sometimes that meant that I marched in the street. Sometimes I had to punch a cop in the face to keep form being arrested just for being alive. Sometimes that meant fighting bashers outside a gay bar with a knife. Sometimes that meant family and friends turning their backs on me. I never wavered. My people have the freedoms they have now because of what men like me were willing to do when it mattered most. I made my life count….. No regrets at all!

  18. I have lived my life with a personal philosophy of “the only regrets you have in life were the risks you are afraid to take”. I never wanted to look back on my life and say..”what if”. I’m 68 years old. I’ve run over 150 marathons and ultramarathons in my lfe. I don’t run anymore (heart says go, knee says no) and took up cycle touring and biking after I couldn’t run anymore. I’ve traveled the world on my bicycle. I’ve cycle toured through Eastern Europe and Turkey for 5 months, cycle toured SE Asia every year for 4 months (leaving Colorado winter behind), cycled the length of Vietnam twice, cycled toured (alone) through Australia and Tasmania, cycle toured from Land’s End (southern most point of England) to John O’ Groats (northern most point of Scotland) and am currently sitting in Chiang Mai Thailand after a 103Km ride today and after riding 1600+ miles through Thailand since Jan 15. I have absolutely NO regrets looking back on my life. I’ve traveled through Cuba, (and am planning a solo cycle tour through Cuba in 2017), in Ireland for 3 months this Fall. Nope, not a single regret if I go tomorrow. As John Denver said..”been a good life all the way”.

  19. 1, 2, 3 and 5 are all summed as “I wish I did whatever I wanted at the time” and #4 is an “I’m lonely when I die.” come on.

    • which means that most people didn’t do what they wanted to do, and many found themselves alone. Come on? Geez… what an ass.

  20. I was a teacher. I earned my travels by sponsoring students on trips in the US, Canada, and Europe. I could never has traveled as much on my teacher’s salary so I found a way to go places and at the same time allowing students an opportunity to see the world. It was energy consuming and stressful at times, but I refuse to call it “work” because it was so fulfilling. In addition, I was able to afford a few trips with my wife and my children. Life has been good to me. Like the Sinatra song, God allowed me to “do it my way.”

  21. People may have different perspectives on this article, there may be some calling it an outright tosh or what, HOWEVER, it’s a great article summarizing what needs to be done before regression takes its toll on human. At least I am dead certain that being true to oneself has been one essential thing disregarded by most, as feigning and pretension becomes part of their life under the assumption this will be curative of their dreams to have more wealth, good house and prosperous life (sycophancy to be precise). I was victim of this nasty feeling up until the realization hit me that doing so would only aggravate my current condition than giving any respite to it. I know being true to myself will not lead me to become world’s top influential personality, but it gives me kind of self-satisfaction that at least I am not cheating on myself – what’s the use of living if your inner-self is tainted with the regressive treachery?

    This article needs thoughtful consideration to learn the most fundamental thing of life – living.

    Learn from the semi-dead.

  22. I am 81 years old. I am still in fair health. None of those regrets apply to me. I never worked a day in my life. I earned a living by what I loved to do. It was not work. It was hard at times, but still very gratifying. I married someone who has been loved by me and who loves me to this day after knowing her for 60 years. I lived in the house I had dreamed to have with a nice plot to grow vegetables and flowers like I loved to do. I travelled throughout the USA and Canada and visited Europe more than a dozen times. There are people who wronged me but I forgave them. I did not have that to carry around. What could I possibly regret? Nothing.

    • What a wonderful story. Well done. May I ask what it was that you have earned your living doing? Sounds amazing if it let you travel internationally so many times.. I’m really curious as you’ve mentioned it wasn’t work.. ☺

      • Thomas
        Thank you kind sir. One of the perks of getting old and dependent on other people for some things, is that you find out how many nice people there are in the world, people who are kind but you would never know until they come to lend you a hand.

    • Were you a trust fund kid? Most of us need to work to enjoy the basics and any kind of travel- if there is any money left over to do so!

      • Different generation. I graduated college in the 90s and had multiple job offers in hand, was able to travel the world dirt cheap while working seasonally to sustain myself. My apartment, when I had one, was $325/ mo for a 1 bedroom. Baby boomers were still working, people died younger and the general population was healthier- decreasing costs all around. Plus, we were not yet borrowing so much money for war while lowering taxes. My children do not have the opportunities I had. The population is aging, a huge sector is no longer working and we are supporting them. the cost of living is up and wages have not gone up to match it. The debt is sky-high and their education will cost 3-4x what mine did. The OP was set up to do better by a country which was set up to succeed. Sucks to be young these days.

        • As a boomer myself it makes me sad all this resentment I hear. It seems like we have made a horrible world for our children whom we love dearly. There were fewer retirees when we were young as so many had died in two world wars. Should we have made a third to help the millennials? Our world was a free and happy place, or it felt that way, homes cost less as did cars and I remember the joy of bringing up my millennial babies and giving them everything they wanted. Thankfully my kids don’t blame me for the economic climate now, but I tell you something ‘a small person’ that you will find out as you get older, it never NEVER sucks to be young.

          • Lilli590, my generation is as responsible for the decline of our country as yours. We had it all. My children are not growing up in a country with as much opportunity as I had. That is just the truth and there is plenth of blame to go around. It is not resentment, it is acknowledgement of the facts. I could work and pay for my education in the 90s. As I complete my doctorate now, there is no way to do that. Education costs are sky-high, while wages have not increased in step with those costs. And that means it does suck to be a part of the young generation, physical function notwithstanding. They don’t have the job opportunities you and I had. They can’t afford education. It’s only getting worse. You have to be able to acknowledge that fact so that we can take steps to fix what is broken. Don’t play the victim, don’t wish for it to be better than it is. MAKE IT BETTER.

          • I am not a victim, never was. I left school at 15, not at all interested in education. Got a job and lived for pay day and the fun at the end of the shift. Got married had lovely kids. I didn’t make it bad and have no idea how to make it better. I loved being young, then having family. Still enjoy my life in rented accommodation with small pension and no car.
            Only regrets I will have is not being kind to others as much as I should have.

          • The fact is, the Boomers ARE responsible for this and are the most spoiled, self-involved, self-aggrandizing generation we’ve produced. The fact you don’t seem to understand that the life you led is basically impossible by today’s economic conditions is emblematic of your generation.

            The fact I have a hard time getting involved in causes because I am too disaffected and jaded to believe the world can change is emblematic of mine.

      • He didn’t say he didn’t work, he said he loved his chosen career so it didn’t feel like work. Not everyone is so lucky to find a way to make a living that they also enjoy, but it’s worth striving for.

      • Just my opinion but I don’t believe he was a trust fund kid. As he implied he did work but he didn’t consider it work because he loved what he did.

    • If you want to travel change your priorities. How much do you spend on cable, internet, eating out, coffee, etc?

    • there are so many factors involved in life to be happy (economic, environmental,..), and every person has different perspectives about his life, such like to be responsible, to help someone to whom you love the most…..

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