Sunday, March 31, 2013

Top Regrets of the Dying

I'm proud to be a member of AARP, which I've been looking forward to for years. Now I really feel grown up.

The AARP newsletters sometimes have very intriguing articles and right now I'm focused on Bronnie Ware's Top Regrets of the Dying, first posted in February 2012. Ware worked in palliative care and saw many people live their final weeks. From these personal interactions and talking to many people as they faced their end, she created this list. It's not everything that came up, but these were the top five. Ware gives meaningful explanations for each, so please click on the links to see details.

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn't work 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 that I had let myself be happier.

It's hard to take risks when we think we have the rest of our lives to live with the consequences, but Ware's article shows that what's most important at the moment of our death isn't what others thought of us or how much money we made, but our personal relationships and the dreams we either did or didn't reach for.

What I like best about this list is its focus on being yourself, expressing your feelings and not letting others' expectations get in your way. I'm proud to live that way, unafraid of making enemies or coming off as a weirdo. I'm uncommonly honest and take risks to speak up for what I think is important. I let people know how I feel about them, whether I like or dislike them. No one has to wonder where she/he stands with me.

But I'm surrounded by people who made safe choices, who started out their lives going in one direction and then took compromising turns because of what others wanted. I've listened to them talk about the day when they'll start living the life they meant to lead, just as soon as A, B and C happen. They assume they have decades to redo their lives and enjoy the choices they wish they'd made the first time.

Maybe they have the time to do it all over again. Maybe they don't. I've carefully avoided the paths I didn't really want to take. In case I die tomorrow, I want to leave behind memories of Regina Rodríguez-Martin that really represent me. I intend to be remembered for working hard on my personal relationships, painstakingly nurturing friendships, telling the world exactly what I thought and taking risks to express the truth I believed needed to be spoken. I intend to be remembered for going after my dreams and not being afraid to let them go if they were no longer what I really wanted.

The one item on Ware's Top Regrets of the Dying that deserves more of my attention is the last one. I could do a better job of allowing myself to be happier. I've been afraid of so many things for so long, but in my late 40's I'm finally emerging from my shadowy crouch. It's time for me to take my new positive view of life as far as I can. So my new goal is that if I die tomorrow, I want to know I spent today allowing myself to be as happy as possible.

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