“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard,” lamented John. “What a stupid fool I was.”
John and Margaret had raised five children together in a long, happily married life. Their adult children now had children of their own.
John was a manager in a successful company, he had worked hard all his life. When their adult children had moved into their own homes, Margaret asked John to retire.
Both were still fit and healthy. Margaret wanted them to live out their twilight years in happiness.
She wanted to travel the world with John, the love of her life, without any worries of children or finances.
Margaret would spend all day going through travel brochures and suggest to John different places and countries that they could visit.
John also wanted to travel the world and he would agree with whatever Margaret suggested.
“Next year,” John would say to Margaret every time she asked him to retire. “Let me complete just one more deal.”
And this battle went on every year for 15 years.
One evening, Margaret was in tears as she begged John to retire. The sight of his soulmate begging him in tears struck a chord in his heart.
He realised that the two of them were not going to live forever.
“OK,” John agreed, “I promise.”
Margaret jumped up and hugged John but her joy was short-lived as John told her,”One more year, I just have to close this last deal and I promise you I will retire.”
John thought that Margaret had waited for 15 years so surely she could wait for one more year? Margaret reluctantly agreed.
As the final year before John’s retirement commenced, Margaret began to make actual plans.
She would phone travel agents during the day and in the evenings she would update John and discuss what they would do and where they would visit.
John was also beginning to warm to the idea of retirement, but he was determined to stick out the last 12 months at work.
One day, four months into his final year with eight months left to go, Margaret began to feel unwell. The couple thought nothing of it.
When a week had passed with no improvement in Margaret’s condition, she went to see her doctor.
The doctor sent her for some tests. The tests came back. The news was not good.
Margaret was dying.
John retired immediately.
But by then Margaret was too ill to travel anywhere. John became her carer.
Five months later, with three months left before John had originally planned to retire, Margaret died.
Many years later, when John himself was on deathbed, he regretted his the decisions he had made in his life.
“As I sit here dying, I see that just being a good person is more than enough in life,” he said.
“There’s nothing wrong in wanting a better life.”
“It’s just that the chase for more, and the need to be recognised through our achievements and belongings, can hinder us from the real things, like time with those we love and time doing things we love ourselves.”
The above story was related by Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative care nurse who worked in a home caring for patients in the last 3-12 weeks of their life.
She wrote a book about her interactions with her anonymous patients and published it under the title, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.”
I first heard about this book when I was in prison. I read a review about it in a newspaper and tried to order it, unsuccessfully, via the prison library.
However, I managed to get and read another book, “Seize The Day: How The Dying Teach Us To Live” by French palliative care nurse Marie De Hennezel, which related similar stories and anecdotes.
Princess Diana read this book six months before she died and she was so affected by it that she invited the author over from Paris to have tea with her in London.
It is one of the most powerful books that I read in prison.
Returning to Bronnie Ware’s top five regrets of the dying, she listed:
1.”I wish I had had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
This was by far the most common regret felt by people on their deathbeds.
2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
This was the regret felt by John, whose story appears above.
Often, busy parents buy expensive gifts for their children because they feel guilty for not spending time with them. A bedtime story means more to a child than a £1000 gift.
Possessions are quickly forgotten. But memories of experiences last.
3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
If you want to say something good to someone, say it now before they die.
And if you feel you want to say something to someone close to you, say it lest you live in a prison of bitterness until you die.
4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
As time passes and people become busy with life, they lose touch with friends, especially old friends. Having friends and peers outside your family circle is essential.
With new friends you have to put up an act. With old friends you can be yourself.
5. “I wish I had let myself be happier.”
Happiness comes from valuing and appreciating all the things, people and blessings that you already possess, not worrying about things that you have lost or do not possess.
Hundreds of years before Bronnie Ware recorded her experiences in a book, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advised,
“Take advantage of five before five:
your youth before your old age
your health before your sickness
your riches before your poverty
your free time before you become busy
and your life before your death.”
Have you ever asked a dying person about their reflections on the life they had just lived? Or what advice they had for the living? Why don’t you share your experiences below?
My story and why I was in prison can be read here.
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