As a chaplain, it is often my duty to minister to patients and families during and after the dying process. While every experience is absolutely unique and sacred, patterns begin to emerge from the last thoughts shared in these final moments. Here are the top five regrets most commonly shared by those dying.
Of those wrestling the dying process, one of the things they reflect on the most is how they spent their time. All of the patients I have worked with have either said they wished they had spent more time with their families, or they said the memories of time spent with their families were most precious.
Many struggling with end-of-life issues regret working too much. Rather than using work as a means to provide necessities for their family, they spent time working for extra material things, missing out on valuable experiences. They talk about how they wished they had saved more energy for playing with their kids while they were young, tried new things once their kids were grown or gone on adventures with grandchildren.
People who hold grudges or fail to forgive often wish they had let go of things earlier and resolved differences sooner. They reflect on wasted energy, time they didn't realize was slipping away and being enslaved by what they thought was punishing someone else.
When looking back, many people say they should have been more kind or maybe had the courage to speak truth in some bold way. They are sorry for things they can't take back and ashamed of times they should have stood up for someone but didn't.
When people are aware of the dying process, they become more mindful of what it means to still be alive. They talk about how they wished they had been more content or not been so afraid of change. They realize happiness is something chosen or even created rather than something that can be bought or to which a person is entitled.
The dying process strips away distractions, clarifies vision and brings meaning to being alive. Priorities become easier to set, time is treasured and interactions become more sacred. Learning to live well now can help the dying process be more peaceful.