If I Had It To Do Over Again
I have a list sitting on my computer desktop.
I call it my “If I Had It To Do Over Again” list.
It is a list I have compiled from all the carefully held wishes, quietly explained dreams and angrily yelled regrets people who are dying have expressed to me.
I have spent much of my life and career helping people make the difficult transitions from living to dying to death.
I have found mortality often brings a clarity of purpose and meaning to one’s life unlike that offered by anything else. You see, facing your death causes you to face your life. Too often people do not like what is looking back at them.
The “If I Had It To Do Over Again” list is clear and concise.
It keeps me honest with my life and my life path.
I am sharing it with you, because often the giver expressed these items to me with a fervent wish that I benefit from their direct and honest expression of their life’s lessons and regrets.
It was very clear they felt compelled, by something deep within them, to pass on to another person the hearkening knell of wisdom approaching death had rung in them. For many of them it represented a final act of goodness or kindness they still had the strength to give, and perhaps one less regret, before their time here was over.
Here is the list:
1) “I would have let myself be happier.”
As life becomes short, people value each moment with an incredible commitment. They begin to realize opportunities for happiness were constantly available if only they had allowed themselves the permission to welcome them. Happiness is a choice of perspective. People ponder sad questions about why they chose to stay trapped in habits and patterns steeped in negativity. With time short, many people realize happiness was always within their grasp if only they had reached out for it.
2) “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time working at things I didn’t enjoy or believe in.”
People often throw themselves into work not because they believe in or feel good about what they are doing, but because they have come to think they need “things” to make them appear successful or make their family proud of them. Many report they had stopped valuing what they were working at, but had been afraid to let go of it and try new things because they were fearful of failing or because they had worried what others would think of them. But, the end of life brings home how, too often, they unintentionally separated themselves from the laughing, sharing, talking and celebrating waiting to be shared with those they loved, or how they had toiled in jobs and tasks that they now felt had been without meaning and purpose. Seeing the smiles of those you love is a priceless celebration of the life you are living. And, doing work you value and believe in is compelling, satisfying and life affirming.
3) “I wish I had been a better friend.”
Telling stories and reminiscing about one’s life experiences causes people to recognize how pivotal their friends were to so many of the most memorable and pleasure-filled pictures of their history and times. Yet sometimes there is not the time left to find those people we have let drift away to say one final “thanks” or “I’ve missed you” or “I’m sorry” or “I love you.” And, sometimes the friends themselves are no longer living. Too often, our day-to-day world tends to take over our attention and we forget to nurture those relationships that offer so much to us. This is an area of deep regret for so many people. Everyone I have ever helped through this transition misses their friends when they are dying, misses those special relationships they have let slip away from them through inattention.
4) “I wish I had lived, with courage, a life true to my heart and not the life everybody else expected me to live.”
This one is often the most painful regret. People look back over the length of their lives and wish they had made different choices at so many landmarks, and there is no way to go back as death approaches. When you are at the end of the road, turning around and looking back allows a clear, panoramic view of everything that has gone before, but time, options and possibilities are in short supply. People see all the ways they gave up their dreams to meet the expectations of others. They stand at the end of their long road wishing they had fulfilled their own expectations of themselves and been true to their innermost dreams.
5) “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
Many people suppress the most powerful emotions in their hearts throughout their lives because they are afraid of disappointing others or causing conflict. Then, in the end, their body succumbs to illnesses brought on by the unhappiness, resentment, bitterness and anger it was forced to be the vessel for containing. We cannot live with the emotional poison of personal disappointment and regret yet not expect it to have consequences. You cannot control how others will react to your self-truths, but you can control your choice to live an honest life and to be your true self.
So, what has all of this taught me?
1) Be happy. I mean it. Let go of pain, worry and fear. Time is short; don’t waste it on these limiting emotions.
2) You spend a lot of the hours of your life at work; make them satisfying hours of accomplishment. Recognize the worth of the time spent with the people in your life who value the time spent with you when you do put your work aside.
3) Cherish your friendships as a precious exchange of unique love and special trust.
4) Honor your dreams and include those who you love in ways that allow you to share the joy you experience in fulfilling those dreams.
5) Express your true feelings. Say what you need to say. A clear heart is a peaceful heart.
In the end, it all comes down to love, time and relationships. How do you live a life without regret? I don’t know. I only know that when time is short you remember ~ the love.
Photo Credit: Sugarsnaptastic @ Flickr