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Top five regrets of the dying (and why advisors should care)

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One of the biggest hurdles faced by advisors in the life and health sector is the fact that people hate to talk about illness, aging and death. And on some level, who can blame them? It’s scary. But as I’ve written before, there are some very important reasons why we need to get over our fear, or at least learn to handle it like grown ups. 

One of the first steps in this process is simply becoming more comfortable talking about aging and death so we can properly prepare and begin to learn from the wisdom and perspective of those who have faced it before us. 

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent years working in palliative care and caring for patients in the final weeks of their lives. She recorded their most common regrets and collected them in a blog and later a book titled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.” 

“When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” Ware said, “common themes surfaced again and again.” These themes provide invaluable insight into what really matters about our lives when we look back on them. Seems like the kind of conversation you should be having with your clients every single day. 

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, with accompanying thoughts from Ware.


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.” 


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 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.” 

See also:

Top 10 final care facts