Truman Capote once said that “Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.” Unfortunately, many people don’t realize how to improve the first two acts of the play, until they are well into that badly written third act. No one wants to sit on their death bed and realize they missed some of the best parts of life. Luckily, some people are willing to share what they learned in their final weeks to make sure the rest of us don’t make the same mistakes.
Here are a few lessons on living from the dying:
Live Your Life
Bronnie Ware an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives, put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. One regret that she heard over and over again was from people who regretted living the life others expected instead of the lives they truly wanted. “This was the most common regret of all,” she writes. “It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
Amy Joy Smith, who works at a hospice told RD.com that it was important to tell someone how you feel and show appreciation for the people who show you kindness. Yes, that can even mean thank you notes.
Remember Your Priorities
The next time you’re trying to balance work demands with family life, remember the old adage about no one sitting on their death bed wishing they had worked more, because it is apparently very true. One of the deathbed epiphanies that Ware heard frequently was from people who spent too much time at the office instead of spending time with their families or doing what they truly loved.
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Follow Your Instincts
Barbara Moore, manager of Support Services and Director of Camp STARS, a bereavement group she helped start at Visiting Nurse Health System in Georgia told RD.com that it was important to follow your gut, particularly when it comes to sharing and thanking people for acts of kindness.
Ware wrote that one regret she heard during her years as a hospice nurse was from people who wished they had the courage to truly express their feelings. “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others,” she writes. “As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.” To avoid winding up in a similar position learn to express your true feelings about things, even if it means the occasional argument.
Make Your Life Matter
Dianne Gray, the president of the bereavement group, the Elisabeth Kubler Ross Foundation, told RD.com that people nearing the end of their life may find themselves wondering if they will be remembered. To feel like you will be remembered, stay in touch with friends (which Ware says was a common death bed regret) and seek healing and closure with estranged family members, even if it means walking over a bridge that was once burned.
Happiness is frequently a choice, but according to Ware many people don’t realize that until it’s too late, preferring to stay stuck in old, familiar patterns instead of breaking free to find true happiness. “Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content,” writes Ware. “When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.” That lead many people to spend the last few days of their lives wishing they had chosen happiness.