Morrie was a retired dentist who enjoyed a good life, including a nice home and exotic vacations. But he often behaved insensitively toward his family, showing little regard for their feelings. As Morrie neared the end of life, he appreciated his loved ones more — and regretted taking them for granted in the past.
Such remorse is common toward life’s end. In fact, many people share similar end-of-life regrets. These feelings can add to a person’s stress, anxiety, and guilt as they cope with their terminal illness. Family caregivers can help their loved one and themselves by understanding these reactions are normal, and by comforting their relative with the responses described below.
Looking back on their lives, one major end-of-life regret many people have is that they wish they had spent more time with loved ones – whether their family members or close friends.
Your loved one may have worked long hours that kept them away from home. They may not have realized — until it was too late — that they had other options, such as making time for shared activities or working fewer hours.
What you can do: Remind your loved one that you know they care. Tell them you appreciate all the time you did have with each other. Share your memories of good times spent together over the years. Help arrange calls or visits with other people who are important to your loved one.
Another regret of the dying is wishing they had been more supportive, treated their family and friends with more kindness, and expressed more love and appreciation toward them. They may want to apologize for past behavior and fix this end-of-life regret.
What you can do: Listen and tell your loved one you understand their feelings. Tell them you love them and forgive them. (It takes strength to apologize, and even greater strength to forgive. You can free yourself from these regrets and negative feelings by forgiving.) Encourage your loved one to express their feelings to others now, through a phone call, letter or visit.
At the end of life, many people regret spending their lives trying to meet others’ expectations, at the expense of their own wishes and dreams.
What you can do: Listen sympathetically. Remind your loved one that they did their best, and made others happy along the way. Point out the accomplishments and dreams your loved one did achieve. Help them set a new goal, such as writing letters to friends and family, or going to a special place they’d like to visit.
Another regret of the dying is being afraid to share their feelings. A lot of people repress how they feel in order to avoid conflict. That prevents them from being honest with — and closer to — their loved ones. It’s important to realize that we can’t control other people’s reactions. However, honesty can ultimately elevate a relationship to a closer, healthier level. Alternately, it can push away an unhealthy relationship – which is also beneficial.
What you can do: Encourage your loved one to be honest about their feelings. If they ask how you feel about something, be honest (in a kind way) in return.
It’s common for people to get caught up in their own lives and let friendships slip away over time. But at the end of life, love and relationships become the most important things. So, as your loved one nears death, they may long to see their old friends.
What you can do: Help your loved one connect with people they’re longing for, whether through a visit, phone call, or video chat. If someone can’t be reached or has passed away, try to contact a mutual friend or a family member to share recollections.
At the end of life, people often realize that happiness is a choice. Your loved one may wish they had lived differently – perhaps with less seriousness and more fun. They may feel they were stuck in old ways of behaving, which kept them from experiencing joy.
What you can do: Hear your loved one out. Encourage them to do what makes them happy now – whether watching a favorite show, listening to preferred music, or eating a delicious treat. Help them do something to make others laugh, so your loved one can share in that happiness.
We are all constantly learning and developing. Each new experience affects how we view the world and the choices we make. We may opt not to do something at age 25, and then decide to do it at age 45 — after our life experiences have provided new knowledge and perspectives.
Throughout our life, it’s important to step back regularly and make sure we’re living the way we want– so we can get the most out of life and minimize our end-of-life regrets. When we reach the end of life, we also need to forgive ourselves and one another for the missteps and mistakes we made along the way. None of us is perfect!
Moreover, we can’t know how things would have turned out if we had made different decisions. There’s no guarantee our life would have been better in the long run. But when a loved one nears the end of life, we can help them by listening to what they’ve learned – including their regrets — and showing our appreciation for them and the insights they’re sharing.
At the end of life, it’s too late to change the way we lived. But those who are not near death can learn from the regrets of the dying. Here are additional end-of-life regrets that many people express — and how we can avoid them.
Ira Byock writes in The Four Things that Matter Most: “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you,” and “I love you” — carry enormous power to mend and nurture our relationships and inner lives. These four phrases and the sentiments they convey can help us resolve interpersonal difficulties with integrity and grace.
To learn more about how Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice can help your loved one with a serious or terminal illness, please call (800) 229-8183 or fill out this online form.