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The top 5 regrets of the dying blog

The top 5 regrets of the dying

The lessons learnt from the top 5 regrets of the dying.

There is nothing that brings life into sharper focus than the death of someone we know. As we are swept up in grief and loss there is also a profound sense of our own mortality – suddenly life becomes even more precious and we have to sit with the very real reminder that one day we too will die. In many ways death is the ultimate wakeup call. But not for long, soon enough time washes over this reality and we gradually slide back into taking life for granted.


Few people know more about the implications of facing death than Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse and author of ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.’ As she cared for the dying Bronnie listened to the pain and anguish of her patients and realised many expressed the same regrets.  It inspired her to write a blog and then a best selling book and ultimately to transform her life.


Here then are the five top regrets of the dying. Alongside each point are a few words by Bronnie together with some questions that I hope will enable you to reflect on this might impact your life and how you choose to live it:


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.”

Questions to reflect on:

  • Are you living a life true to yourself, rather than the life others expect of you? What’s the ratio if your answer is a bit of both?
  • What are your dreams, ambitions and goals? Are you doing them, moving towards them or putting then off?
  • Remember sometimes we have to figure out who we aren’t in order to realise who we are! Brainstorm your thoughts on this.
  • What brings or would bring greater purpose and meaning to your life? What can you start doing or do more of that fuels this?
  • What is expected of you and by whom? Does that serve, support and empower you?
  • Are you accountable and in charge of your own life and choices (as far as is reasonable and practical)?
  • Who do you need to listen to more and who do you need to ignore? Whose opinion matters and whose doesn’t?


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.”

Questions to reflect on:

  • Do you have a good work/life balance?
  • What needs to be or could be adjusted to create a better balance in work and play?
  • We all have dedicated work time but do you have dedicated downtime, time for yourself and or those you love?
  • What boundaries can you put into place to improve your time off? (e.g. putting the phone down at teatime to eat with the family? Not checking work emails on a Sunday? Practising mindfulness when you are with friends and family? There might be some very simple rules you put into place that help you carve out time to work and time when you are free to enjoy your life to the max).
  • How can you create an hour a day, a day a week (Saturday and or Sunday) to being fully present and connected with things you love and the people you love?
  • How good is your self-care? Do you need to dedicate some more time to your own well being?
  • Can you simplify life? Make less demands on your time and pressures?


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.”

Questions to reflect on:

  • Are you good at expressing your emotions and feelings?
  • Do you have an outlet to express your emotions – be that a friend to chat to/sport and exercise/meditation? What could you start to do that gives you a vent for your emotions and feelings?
  • Do you need to be more connected and or honest in expressing your feelings? What could you start to do that enables you to begin this process? Maybe this is journaling so that you express your emotions on paper, maybe this is opening up a bit more to those who are supportive and trustworthy, maybe it’s time you found the strength to speak your truth?


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.”

Questions to reflect on:

  • We are all guilty of letting friendships slide and even slip away. Is it time to make more of an effort?
  • Covid has reminded us how much we value friendships and hugs – how sad life is when we cannot be with those we love. Now that life can be lived without those restrictions who do you need to call or get into contact with?
  • Is it time to invest in friendships? How can you do that within your schedule? Who, when and where?
  • Is there someone you wish you could get back into contact with? Is it time to reconnect?


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.”

Questions to reflect on:

  • There are only a few times scattered across our life time that happiness occurs spontaneously. For the most part we need to choose happy – we need to create the opportunities and experiences for it to happen. How do you choose happy? How could you build more happy into your life?
  • Do you look to someone else to make you happy? Do you take responsibility for your own life and life experiences?
  • What and even who blocks you from being happy? What do you need to change, heal or remove to promote happiness?
  • What inspires you? What makes your soul shine and brings you alive? What makes you happy and are you doing that enough? Maybe you have ended up ignoring this for too long?
  • Do you need to pay more attention to your self care and your own needs? Remember the happier and more fulfilled you are the more you have to give those around you.
  • What patterns of thinking and behaviour hinder your potential? What work do you need to do on yourself to set yourself free?
  • Do you want change? What do you want to be different? What is stopping you? How do you feel about change?


It is so easy to take life for granted. Many of us do not live in a society or culture that acknowledges or celebrates dying and the dead. It means we have become disconnected from our own inevitable demise. It is why we are so profoundly touched when someone like Dame Deborah James shares their journey and their impending demise with us with such courage and humility.


But if you stop and pause and think about your death and reflect on Buddhas quote, ‘the trouble is you think you have the time’ it begs the question if life is precious and every second counts are you making the most of it? Are you living the life you want? Or do you recognise that you might well be heading towards the top five regrets listed here (if so what do you want to do about that?).


None of this is intended to scare you or cause you a sleepless night. We hope that you can use the regrets of the dying to inspire you to live a more intentional and conscious life. Viewed the right way death is the ultimate wakeup call – every moment counts, live life to the full now. As Buddha said, “The trouble is you think you have the time” maybe now is the time to realise you don’t?


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