Friday, July 5, 2013

Regrets of the Dying

Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware is an article that keeps finding me to teach me lessons I should not ignore.  I've seen it posted by multiple friends on social media over the course of many weeks.  Every time I take a look at it, I think about it for days. While many have seen it, it is the kind of article with so much wisdom in it that it should be read more than once.   It was written by a hospice nurse about the people she cared for who were dying.  She reminds us that all we have in the final weeks is love and relationships.

These were the most common regrets of her patients:

1) I wish I'd lived a life true to myself, not to the life others expected of me.
2) I wish I hadn't worked so hard. 
3) I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5) I wish I had let myself be happier.

For the full article and a fuller description of the previous five points, click this link:

Top Five Regrets of the Dying

I recently stumbled across a memorial page for my high school. I was horrified as the name of a friend caught my eye who had recently passed away that I was right about to try to reconnect with on Facebook.  That's got to be the worst feeling in the world.  Whenever I see the words people leave in social media or elsewhere about friends who have passed on, I see these two common themes: First, they are glad when they had one last chance to reconnect with a person. They say things like: "I'm glad I called her that one last time."  Or "I'm glad we made the time to go have a cup of coffee together since that was the last time I ever saw him."  Second, there is the regret of not having made the time with statements like, "I wish I had taken the time to find out where he was," or "I wish we could've seen each other just one more time."  I actually did see my friend "one more time".  I ran into her at the Walgreens we used to go back when we were kids when we needed to buy nail polish or magazines with our allowance money.  We were both out of high school at that one more time moment and we talked about where we were in life. We seemed to make a genuine and important connection.  I hugged her and I walked away excited for her future, and glad to have seen her, but with a strange feeling.  Now I know why.  My friend was a a young Gen Xer born in the late 70s.  I remember spending lots of time with her in the summers hanging out in the New Mexico sun, having her over to play Barbies, walking home from school with her countless times from the bus stop while we talked about TV, music and other pop culture -- now all considered vintage. She was the quintessential 80s child - the old photo I have of her in my album is of her dancing, wearing a side ponytail.

While I'm glad that such loving and thoughtful people have taken time to add names and memories to my high school's memorial page, I am haunted by it.  The part that haunts me is this:  while I was in high school in the early part of the 1990s, I could feel the past permeating the hallways of my school.  It was as if, on some level, I could feel the lingering joys and sorrows of those who had been been there long before me - maybe even the hopes or dreams of the first graduating class of my school in 1970.  It seemed at times that I could feel the remnant memories of the kids who had been there in the height of all that was from the 80s - the 1984 high school kids who had  seen The Breakfast Club in the theater as they lived that story in real life.  It's strange the way buildings hold the feelings of those who have been inside them, archiving them for those yet to come, whispering to us in the present not to forget the past.  When I look at the list on the memorial page by year of those who have died, there is an especially long list of those who graduated in the early 1980s - these people all would have been first wave Gen Xers.  While I see homicide, suicide, car accidents and other things, many of the causes of death are not listed.  I wonder what all went so terribly wrong.  When I see the pictures of those kids who sat in the same desks I did many years before me, I am strangely relieved to finally see their faces - to finally know what they looked like, because for so long, I could feel what they had left behind - whispering to us in the present not to forget the past.  

I wonder if the kids who go there now can feel the remnants of what we left behind - the 25th graduating class of the school - I wonder if the Grunge Era still floats above busy hallways, if our disappointments still hide below the bleachers in the gym, if my old locker holds the fear I used to feel when I would take my books out - realizing I wasn't going to get into a prestigious college.  It makes me think so much of what we leave behind us - of how important it is to be true to our hearts in this life, of how much time we can spend worrying about things that ultimately don't matter.  And I am whispering to my past self from this present moment, a message to my high school self: Don't live out what others expect of you -  listen to your heart instead.  It's okay to let yourself be happy.  Don't work so terribly hard and worry so terribly much.  Stay in touch with your true friends.  Stay in touch with the true you.  

Remember the regrets of the dying.  Remember those who have influenced you. Be true to yourself and to those in your life.  This means telling people how much you love and respect them, however those words take shape.  Sometimes saying "thank you" or "I'm sorry" is in order, as I find old friends from different eras of my life and reconnect with them.  Say what needs to be said.  If the right moment comes, you may be able to tell someone how they hurt you -- you may be given a new opportunity to forgive or to be forgiven.  Don't just assume someone doesn't want to get back in touch with you.  You might be surprised.  "Reach out to some people." my wise friend Laura told me a couple of years ago who I am now reconnected with because she reached out to me.  "You've got nothing to lose."

(c) 2013 writing and photography by Chloe 


HeyRay said...

There's a scene from Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams's character takes his new students on a walk through the halls of their old school and makes them look at pictures of graduates from decades prior, in their outdated haircuts and football uniforms. He leans in close behind them, and in a loud whisper tries to echo the ghost voices of those deceased former students..."carpe...carpe diem boys...make your lives extraordinary..." I think of this every time I see old pictures of young people in their primes, and your post echoed the sentiment.

ChloeGXP said...

HeyRay - that's such an incredible movie - I had forgotten about that scene, but that is exactly what I was talking about. Maybe I unconsciously had that scene in the back of my mind when I wrote about the 'whispers' from the past. I went back and watched that scene on YouTube. It is easy to find when searching with the words "carpe diem". The professor wonders if those students from the past even fulfilled "one iota" of what they are capable of during their lives before they died. The whole scene is a beautiful mix of past and present, of Greek and Latin (or Eastern and Western thought)and we can learn so much from both. We cannot let fear keep us back, and we should learn all we possibly can. We have to do what we were meant to do, and to live our lives fully. Seize the day.