Birding. Searching for plants. Moth trapping. Sharing time in the field with friends. Talking over the days events, or those of several years ago, in the pub over a few pints. These are moments that are not just about following a keen interest in natural history, but are also an important part of our life as well. Most of us will also have family, employment and other life strands that entwine to give us our purpose on earth. It is a lucky person indeed who can embrace all of this and live their life without experiencing the emotion of regret at not having done a particular something, or procrastinated to the point of having failed to fulfil a wish. The world of today is one of incessant deadlines, noise, needs and expectations. It can be difficult to take the time to step back and look at what we do and were we want to go next.
The recent loss of a friend and my own questioning of what I do (and ultimately what I want out of life) has made the following words all the more meaningful. They come from a nurse who has spent a number of years looking after the terminally ill. These are the regularly occurring regrets of those whose time is short. I think they deserve reading and heeding. It was too late for those who formed them - but we still have time to do something about them if we agree with some (or all) of them. You can apply each observation to any situation that you choose or tailor it to your own way of life. Be honest with yourself...
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 realise 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 honoured even a 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 realise, until they no longer have it.’
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.’
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.’
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
‘Often they would not truly realise 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.’
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
‘This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise 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.’
Carpe diem and all that... and as somebody once said to me, and it has stuck in my brain, "remember Steve, there was a bloody fool on the Titanic that pushed away the desert trolley!"