As a child, one of my favorite pastimes was laying in the tall grass near my home, staring up at the clouds and pondering a multitude of enticing ideas about life. I wondered about how other people lived, or what I would be when I grew up, or if I would have children of my own. I also thought about the possibilities of what lay beyond the clouds and stars.
It has been many decades since those warm afternoons, but I still enjoy pondering life. And equally intriguing for me is to learn what goes through the minds of others. As an end-of-life guide, I have had the privilege of the dying person sharing thoughts with me during their last days of life and the subjects can be varied and very real and honest.
When there is no longer a need to impress others or be concerned about their opinions, we are free to feel at ease about just being us. Without being unkind but only honest with nothing held back, we can be free to express ourselves in ways that we might never have allowed before. It is in these times that I feel honored to be the receiver of the dying person’s last thoughts and I never fail to be grateful for the trust.
I am ever so careful never to lead the conversation but only to lend my ears and offer comfort and support as I become privy to their life in the form of stories and heartfelt statements made about such topics as family, love, turning points in life, children, pivotal moments, and such. These conversations are quite unique because–although I might speak a word here and there–primarily it is a one-sided conversation and my input is not required nor even desired.
I believe with all my heart that I am wiser because of these conversations. I say with sincerity that I live my life better because of what I have learned from the dying person and I offer some of their wisdom for your consideration in hopes that you too may live life better. Because I believe that the best way to die well is to live well first.
Although there can be many interesting topics that come up in these last hours and days, the subject of regret is common. So I will list some of them here, in no particular order:
“I placed too much importance on other people’s opinion of how I lived my life”.
“I placed too much importance on my career.”
“I failed to express my authentic self.”
“I should have put my friends and family first.”
“I took life for granted.”
“I should have looked for what was right instead of what was wrong about life.”
While it is impossible to get through life without regrets, perhaps we can learn from the dying person and eliminate some of them right here and right now. Because of the lessons learned at the bedside of the dying, I try harder. This gives me hope that I will not need to say to my end-of-life guide, “I regret to tell you.”