The top five regrets of the dying

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First aired on Morning Edition (27/4/12)


In the face of death, many people report having moments of clarity, a sudden realization of what really matters in life. While working as a palliative care nurse -- she cared for patients in the last weeks of their lives -- in Australia, Bronnie Ware witnessed many patients experience those moments. This inspired her to write an article about the regrets of the dying on her website Inspiration and Chai, which quickly went viral. Now, Ware turned this article into a book of the same name, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, and hopes to reach even more people with her message of how to live life to the fullest.

Ware was amazed at the reception of the original article, which was viewed by more than three million people. But she understands why so many people connected with the concept. "It gives people a little bit of hope and I guess it gives them permission to be themselves," Ware said to Morning Edition host Sheila Coles. "It's just really struck home with people that we really are going to die one day and it's our choice how to live in the meantime."

Ware says that not every patient had regrets on their deathbed, but around 70 per cent did. Some were more accepting about the decisions they made and the life they lived than others. Of those who weren't at peace with how they lived, Ware saw the same themes crop up over and over: regrets most often pertained to balance, happiness, relationships and being true to themselves.

Ware believes that avoiding these regrets is as simple as following your heart. She believes that fear is what prevented people from going after the life they want. "It takes enormous courage to deal with the things that hold us back," she said. "After seeing the pain and anguish that dying people have, I know it's worth it to go after the fear that blocks you...and find that courage to deal with what's in your way."

She acknowledges that compromise and sacrifice -- which often prevented people from living the life they wanted -- are both part of life, but they shouldn't be done at the expense of expressing who you are. "It's just having the courage to open your heart and allow yourself to have at least some of your dream fulfilled," Ware said. "What it came down to in my observations is that we really do have to honour our own hearts and everyone benefits from that."


The top five regrets of the dying, as outlined by Ware, are below.

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I didn't work so hard.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

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

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