Have you come across this yet? Maybe it came across on your Twitter feed, was posted on someone’s Facebook wall, or landed in your email inbox. It makes for thought-provoking reading — reportedly, it’s the insights on the top regrets of the dying, shared by a palliative care nurse.
Since I was slightly skeptical as to whether this article was true or a work of fiction, I called J. Donald Schumacher to get his thoughts. Dr. Schumacher, the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and a clinical psychologist, has been working with the dying for over 35 years and had this to share on the regrets he sees in his line of work.
Q: What kinds of regrets do you hear from the dying?
A: People’s regrets fall into two categories: One) What I did. Two) What I didn’t do. They think about things that have gotten them well-connected with people and they wish they’d done more of that, or some feel so distanced from people that they feel very sad they’re not as connected. The real issue is relationships and who people were or were not with.
Q: This article points to one key regret: wishing they hadn’t worked so hard. Do you hear that too?
A: Absolutely. A job can’t love you back. That’s one of the things I hear. It used to be a lot of men who were dying talked about how they’d committed so much to their careers, but they had not had the kind of relationships with their spouse or children they wished they had had. Now that we’re much of a more equal society, there are many women with the same reactions. They wished they’d had a different kind of relationship with their children or their husband or spouses.
Q: What other regrets do you hear from women now?
A: Women are so much more attuned to the relationship aspect of their lives and their dying. Many women I’ve worked with have really wanted to try and make peace within their family, or clarify the role within their family or make sure their family would continue after they’d died.
Q: How about the wish they’d expressed their feelings or lived a truer life — do you hear that as well?
A: A lot of people regretted the fact that it took so long for them to become themselves or to live the kind of life that they wanted to. Many people are angry, frankly, that they hadn’t lived the kind of life they’d wanted to, or that they’d always put others before themselves.
Q: And so what advice do you give the living based on what you hear from the dying?
A: It’s going to sound trite, but live every day as though it were the last. And in doing that, you’re making sure your relationships are where you want them to be and people know where you stand with each other. Because one never knows what’s going to happen to you quickly and suddenly and if it does, what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? We’ve learned from people in the past that it’s much better to have said I love you than it has been to stay stuck in a place where you can’t communicate.
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