I hope this blog post on lessons from the dying can help you create a better relationship and a better life.
We all know how important it is to recognize that life is short.
But we sometimes fail to truly realize that until we’re confronted with death.
Years ago, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on positive growth following traumatic loss, and was happy to find from my study that many people experience growth and life in a new way after suddenly losing loved ones.
Existential issues, relationship issues and the question of how to truly live a worthy life came up among my participants.
I try to remember these lessons…
I will be the first to admit that I often forget.
A palliative nurse, Bonnie Ware, asked those on their death beds what they regret most, and compiled their stories into a book, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.
Her findings are worth sharing.
All of them are about our relationships.
Here they are:
1.) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others had expected of me.
This one in particular is about your relationship with yourself. You must start here to create your best relationship with your partner, your friends, your family, your co-workers, and anyone else.
Couples get into problems with each other when they deny their own needs, feelings and desires.
Even if we try to ignore them, our needs, feelings and desires are always there. When we turn our eyes from them and try to sweep them under the rug, we are missing something, and we start to starve. Some part of us tries to get such needs met but in ways that are self-defeating.
One of my goals in working with couples is to help each partner get in touch with their needs and express them in a way that their partner can hear and respond to.
This is huge. It’s such a problem because throughout life we are taught and forced to swallow our needs, or they aren’t met when we ask for them to be met, so we protect ourselves and try to be self-sufficient.
In reality, without others, we cannot be self-sufficient. Be true to yourself and what you need in your relationship, not what you think you should need or what someone else tells you to need.
Lesson #1 from the dying: Be true to yourself.
2.) I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
Gulp. Guilty there. But I love my work – does that still count as something I might regret?
I think so. I love my work and I’m happy doing it. But I work a lot and miss time with my own partner. Ironic for a couple’s therapist who tells people to set aside time to be together. That’s not cool. I’m working on that one.
A lot of the folks with this regret were from an older generation, and were men. They were caught on the treadmill of work work work and missed time with their families.
Lesson #2 from the dying: Take time to be with the ones you love. Even if it means working less.
3.) I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
This is the lesson that inspired me to write this post.
When couples aren’t courageous with each other to be vulnerable and express their feelings, all kinds of bad things happen.
Negative patterns of escalating negative emotion emerge and couples get caught in a catch-22.
The sad thing is that partners in these patterns almost always want the same thing:
To be valued, seen, heard, and cherished. To be adored.
We all want that.
When you don’t feel like your partner adores you, it’s often because their truths and feelings aren’t being expressed.
And then it can be scary to let your partner know your true feelings: that you feel hurt, scared and upset because of this.
So negative cycles are born and grab hold of partners and tear them apart.
Lesson #3 from the dying: Be brave and express your feelings.
4.) I wish I stayed in touch with my friends.
Also guilty. I’m in touch with my friends but I should see them more, make them more of a priority, and honor those relationships more. To my friends: I am sorry.
Again, the dying are talking about relationships.
Yes, the folks in this nurse’s study didn’t have Facebook…but that doesn’t count.
Lesson #4 from the dying: Stay in better touch with your friends!
5.) I wish that I’d let myself be happier.
Yikes – that’s a biggie!
Again, this is about your relationship with yourself, and pretty much sums it up.
When you’re true to yourself, spend your time with the ones that you love, express yourself and stay close to friends, it will probably be a lot easier to allow yourself to be happier.
So take risks, stay close, be true to yourself and believe in yourself.
Allow yourself to dream bigger and create not only your best relationship but your best life.
I imagine the happiness will follow.
Lesson #5: Allow yourself to be happy.
What do you think?
What small step can you take today to live a life that you will be less likely to regret?
Please leave your comments below.
In the meantime, I’m going to work on items 1 through 5. After all, we could all go at any moment.
Cheers to your best relationship,