Memorable experiences and people we love

2nd February 2012

Bronnie Ware is a writer and songwriter from Australia who worked in palliative care for many years. She has recently released a full-length book titled ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing’.

The book is a memoir of her own life and how it was transformed through the regrets of the dying people she cared for. It is based on her original blog Regrets of the Dying, which I have copied below.

What has this got to do with Financial Planning you might ask?

Well, quite a lot actually. Financial Planning involves working out your goals in life. Then, by adding timescales and costs, you can work out how to get where you want to be by planning your finances accordingly.

The standard Fortitude Financial Planning processhas always included an element of coaching where we help you to identify, quantify and prioritise your financial and lifestyle goals. The majority of our clients find this approach very helpful, as it provides a more personal context for the important financial decisions they need to make.

For some clients though, Financial Planning alone is not enough. While they might approach us with specific financial goals in mind (e.g. ‘I want to stop work when I’m aged 60’) they have rarely given a great deal of thought to what they will do next. Many are financially successful people, but they are not as content as they would like to be. They have plenty of financial resource and plenty of “stuff”. Nevertheless they feel that they are missing out on something and cannot quite put their finger on what it might be. Others may have a vague idea about what it is, but cannot see the way to reach it.

These clients need help to discover what they really want from life and at Fortitude we are developing the skills to do exactly that. I will shortly complete a period of mentorship with the Kinder Institute of Life Planning. The Kinder Institute trains and coaches financial advisers worldwide in a method called Financial Life Planning. This method is based on the premise that advisers should first discover a client’s most essential goals in life – their “hearts core” – before formulating a Financial Plan, so a client’s finances fully support those goals. This may sound elementary but few of us spontaneously undertake a thoughtful inquiry into our deepest and most enduring values and objectives.

If you take the time to read Bronnie’s blog you will find that the common regrets are based around missed experiences, feelings, friendships and relationships.

This is not so surprising when you think about it. It was my birthday recently and, as I often do at this time of year, I reflected on the highs and lows of the previous year. Guess what, the highs all involved memorable experiences with people I care about (and memorable does not necessarily mean expensive or even exciting); a meal with family and friends when I proposed to Helen, my son’s 18th birthday, getting my son settled into his University accommodation and an evening with friends watching their son performing in his band.

Why don’t you try it for yourself? Think about the last 12 months. Which memories provide the greatest source of happiness? What is it about those experiences that makes them so special? Would you like to have more of these experiences? What’s stopping you?

I found Bronnie’s blog very moving, but what really saddens me is that so many people only discovered what was really important when it was too late for them to do anything about it.

****REGRETS OF THE DYING, by Bronnie Ware****

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

 1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. 

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

 Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

This post was published by Neil Bailey. If you like what you read, why not follow him on Twitter?