Regrets of the dying

aging man on bench at sunset representing dying

In Bronnie Ware’s book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying’, she tells of her experiences as a palliative careaged stone wall structure worker, people she encountered in her work and their main regrets.  In this very brief post, I share how she describes some people who wished they had the courage to express their feelings more (regret 3).

The gentle, smiling 94 year old holocaust survivor, Jozsef, had a most agreeable demeanor.  While his family preferred to spare him the information that he was dying,  his deteriorating condition, meant reality would intrude into awareness.  His increasing reliance on Bronnie, more and more prescriptions for medicine to address pain, and still more medications to address side effects of medications all pointed to the fact that Jozsef was dying.

One of his sons lived close enough and visited daily, another was interstate, and Jozsef’s daughter lived overseas.  The daily visits from the nearby son involved chats about business matters and Jozsef shared his belief with Bronnie that his son was more interested in an inheritance than his father’s welfare.

Family attempts at convincing Jozsef that his condition was improving, in spite of evidence to the contrary, could not be sustained.  Subsisting on a small amount of yoghurt a day meant he was very weak indeed.  Eventually, Jozsef stated to Bronnie, his carer, that he believed he was dying.  When Bronnie confirmed this, he was grateful for the confirmation.  He understood his wife and family were struggling with that reality.

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

Jozsef had loved his work in Australia, his new country, after release from the camps. He could provide for his family’s needs.  His regrets now were that his family had seen very little of him.  He had not afforded his family the chance to really know him.  Jozsef had used his preoccupation with work because he greatly feared letting his feelings show.  He kept the family at arms length.

graphic of antique representation of a constellationBelieving he had missed the chance to build loving, warm relationships with his children, instead choosing to lead by the example of valuing and making money.  Now,  realising he was dying, Jozsef saw this as pointless.  Even leaving his family with some wealth was no compensation for them not really knowing him.

As frailty deepened for Jozsef his frustration with not having the skill to design a feelings-based conversation with his family.  He believed it was too late.  His son, mindful of the expense of care, fired Bronnie, hired an illegal worker at significantly reduced cost to the care budget.   Jozsef did not get a chance to make his preferences or feelings known.  About a week later he was dead.

We will all die but we have choice as to how we live before that event.  Sharing feelings means embracing  a certain vulnerability.  Deciding upon how really meaningful our life will be and what purposes we choose to be worthy of are important considerations.  Avoiding the pain and discomfort of honesty can itself be painful.  Can it not?

Express feelings before its too late

Another person cared for by Bronnie was Jude.  Unusually, in Bronnie’s palliative care work, Jude was a younger patient.  Just 44 years old and living with motor neuron disease, she lived with her husband and young daughter.   Disenchanted with inconsistent care from agencies as well as increased challenges with Jude’s deteriorating speech.  Jude required hoist support for transfers from bed to chair.

Although from a wealthy family, Jude entered a relationship with an artist which was rejected by her family who had very different expectations of their daughter.  Forced to choose between her partner, Edward, and her family, she chose Edward.  Jude was excluded from her birth family.  After years and on the birth of her own daughter there was something of a reconciliation with her father.

As Jude’s condition worsened her capacity to communicate her needs diminished.  On rare occasions of capacity Jude repeated her message to her main carer Bronnie.  The message, while simple is not always easy; “We need to be brave enough to express our feelings”.  Expression of feelings in the moment before it becomes too late was most important for Jude.

As Bronnie reports Jude’s sentiments were like this; “None of us ever knows when it will be too late.  Tell people you love them.  Tell them you appreciate them.  If they can’t accept your honesty… what matters is you’ve told them”.

Far too frequently are matters left unaddressed, possible resolutions missed, wounds unhealed.  Please stop by again for more on Bronnie Ware’s book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying’ published by Hay House.



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