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When you are dying, what will you regret?

Updated on October 22, 2013

Sometimes I ask my friends what super power they would like to have; the most common answer I get is "The power to go back in time and have another opportunity to do things differently". The truth is we can't go back in time. We all have only one chance to do things right. John W. Gardner (1912-2002) said, “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser”. We will make mistakes, hence we will feel the frustration and remorse that comes along, and we will wish to have done things differently, which is called “regret”. Then we will tend to think we are in debt to life, or that life owes us something. And if we don’t act about it in time, our dying day will come, and we will be full of regrets.

"There is no reason not to follow your heart"

-Steve Jobs

Let’s meditate about this

How many times have I breathed in and out since I was born? I surely don’t know, but more important than that… How many more breaths will I take before my time comes to an end? How many more beats will my heart make before it stops? How many more days do I have left on this life? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but I do know this, every minute that goes by I am one minute closer to my time to die. Am I being too dramatic? I want to think I am just being realistic, and sometimes it is necessary to go this far and hard, and think about this subject. Why? Because it reminds me that my time is limited, therefore I meditate about the importance of every single minute of this life, so I must do the best out of it; look for my joy and happiness, and the things that are really important for me. Therefore, to think about my time of dying may lead me to live a better life. Mr. Prem Rawat says that on average a human being lives 25.550 days, if you think about it, it is not that much, so it is urgent to live life.

I want to take a moment to quote the wise words of Mr. Steve Jobs. He said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life”. “Almost anything --all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure-- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important”. “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart”.

A personal experience

When I was 14ish I had a shocking experience, in the middle of the night a mudslide hit the town I lived in at that moment. My brother, I, and the squad we were serving in (youth program), helped in the rescue of survivors, recovery of dead bodies, and clear the rubble. I remember we lifted a wooden plank and under it we found the dead body of a girl in her early twenties. Few moments later we found the bodies of the other three members of her family –father, mother, and a younger brother. I will never forget that day or the many thoughts I had. I was thinking about how many goals, dreams and desires each member of that family may have had. I meditate about the last thing every one of them thought before falling asleep. Everything happened so fast that it is really unlikely one of them woke up before the tragic event. I thought about what they may have done during the previous day, and the plans they may have had for the next morning. Did they go to bed feeling satisfied? Angry? Sad? Happy? At peace? Where they ready to go yet? I will never know the answers to these questions, so my only comfort came from thinking that at least the whole family went away together. Nobody was left behind.

Few days ago I was at the hospital visiting someone, when I was walking down the main hall a young woman appeared out of nowhere and almost crash me, she was walking like she was going to fall down, then she leant against the wall. A nurse saw everything and went to her, and the young woman started to cry herself out, yelling, “She died, my grandmother just died!” I can’t explain how deep I felt her pain, she was suffering so much. I must confess… I am really sensitive about death, even of people I never met. All these situations make me think about the life I am living. I am still here; I still have an opportunity to improve my life, and I must act in consequence. Get my desires fulfilled, get rid of the regrets I may have, and find my peace.

Just a leaf in the wind...
Just a leaf in the wind...

Top Five Regrets of the Dying

The Australian nurse Bronnie Ware spent several years taking care of patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She put her observations into the book Top Five Regrets of the Dying. People gain an astonishing clarity of vision when they face death. We must learn from the experience of those who are ahead of us.

Here is the Top Five Regrets,

according to what Mrs. Ware witnessed:

  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 hadn’t worked 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.

You and I are alive today, we all have things we would love to do but still have not done. Why we have not done them? There may be countless different reasons. If I knew these are going to be my last 24 hours to live, what would I do? Would I have something to lose today? What does really make me happy? What is my desire? If my desire will not hurt anybody, why can’t I simply fulfill it?

What do you want from life?

Some people may wish to make a difference in this world, to make it a better place, to be remembered, and to leave a legacy. Others may wish just to live a happy life in quietness. Both are valid. It is up to you what you wish for, what you decide to do with your life, and it is up to you to achieve it –whatever it may be.

What regrets will I have in my time of dying? What regrets do I have now? I certainly wish not to have any regret when my time comes. I try my best to fulfill all my desires for this life, but sometimes I just can’t help thinking I will not get the chance to do all the things I want to do. There are so many things I still want to do, and the time is so limited! Then I realize, “Not all the things I want to do require big resources to get them done!” There is a well-known song, called “The Best Things in Life Are Free”; the sole title gives us a lot to think about and to act accordingly. So there are a lot of items I can cross off from that list right now.

Taj Mahal mausoleum. Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Built in memory of the third wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Opened in the year 1648.
Taj Mahal mausoleum. Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Built in memory of the third wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Opened in the year 1648.

The bucket list

In the movie The Bucket List (2007), in the Taj Mahal scene, Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) tells Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) the love story behind the monument, and Edward replies, “So that’s true love”. “That’s true love”, Carter answers. Then Edward adds, “Must be nice”. It got me thinking, is it really worthy to have lived decades on this Earth and have never known what true love is? Love without restraint. What items from your list are still marked as undone? Do you still have to forgive someone? Do you still have to apologies to someone? Do you have to find the courage to go talk to that special someone? Do you still have to love?

When was the last time you took a moment of your time to share with your loved ones? To know what is going on with them? To laugh and cry together? To know each other better? When was the last time you spent some quality time with yourself? To enjoy a moment of solitude? To get to know yourself better?

Someone said, “We spend half-life working to build a fortune, then we spend that fortune in getting back the health we lost to make it, and we lose the other half of our life on it”.

Sometimes we think we can measure life by the years we spent on this Earth, but some people say “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”.


At Peace

There is a poem I love from Amado Nervo (1870-1919). I want to share it with you, so here is an English translation of it:

At Peace (En Paz)

Very close to my sunset, I bless you, Life.

Because you never gave me unfilled hope

Nor unjust tasks, nor undeserved sorrow;

Because I see that at the end of my rough road

That I was the architect of my own destiny;

That I extracted the honey or the gall from things,

Because in them I put the gall or delicious honey;

When I planted roses, I always harvested roses.

Certainly winter is going to follow my youth:

But you never told me that May would last forever.

Neither did you promise me only good nights;

And in exchange I had some saintly serene…

I loved. I was loved. The sun caressed my face.

Life, you don’t owe me anything!

Life, we are at peace!

Final words

A life filled with satisfaction is what I wish for you and for me. No regrets. And I don’t mean “No deathbed-regrets”. I mean No regrets, starting right now. I read somewhere, “We are dying a little bit every day”. But I rather believe “we are living a lot every day”. This way we won’t get any regret.

“Life, you don’t owe me anything! Life, I don’t owe you anything! Life, we are at peace!” I think, once you get to say this from your heart, you have truly lived.


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