An article in the online Guardian today made me think a bit. It discusses the most common regrets of the dying as recorded by a palliative nurse taking care of people in the final weeks, days and hours of their lives. What struck me immediately I read them was that they are probably the things almost everyone would probably identify. There was no mention of "world cruises" or winning lotteries, much less of more sex, throwing wild parties or any of the more frequently heard "wishes" so flippantly uttered on "reality TV" or in street corner surveys.
Top of the list was "I wish I'd lived a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
I can identify with that one, but I'm not so sure my life would have been much better for doing so. I confess I did a lot of very stupid things "off camera" and away from the sight and likely hearing of those who "expected of me." If I'd lived the life those moments of stupidity indicated as a likely path of "being true to myself" I'd probably not be writing this now and I'd also most likely have expressed the same regret - but from a different perspective. I think quite often we don't really know what "being true to myself" really is. Yes, I've a few nostalgic regrets about some aspects of my early adventures - like not making more of an effort to break away from a rather stifling relationship with my dependent mother, or making more effort to achieve my greatest wish to own my own boat and do much more sailing, perhaps even taking out some "tickets" as a yacht master ... But, on the positive side, I've seen a heck of a lot of the world, made some super friends, had a lot of laughs, watched my three kids grow up, carved out a career for myself, loved, lost and achieved. Who knows, perhaps I have lived a life "true to myself."
Second was "I wish I hadn't worked so hard."
Again, I can identify with that one. My career demanded a lot and in the early years was a "live-in" 24/5 (Yes, that is right - 2 days off in 7!) job in a tough part of the city. Even later, as I rose in the ranks, it came down a bit but I was still away from home for half the hours in a week. After we moved to the UK and I settled in London, well, those who live there know how long getting to and from the office takes ... After my divorce, I moved to the other side of England, and, now single and with a huge deficit to work off, I had little option. Perhaps that would be my number 2, losing that daily contact, brief as it was, with my kids ...
Third on the Guardian list is - "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings."
Hmm, whenever I did, I got accused of being self-centred. So maybe I did it wrong? I have to say, sometimes expressing one's feelings can be a very negative experience, at others, of course, it is entirely appropriate. Perhaps the present day view of "letting it all hang out" is good from a psychological point of view, but it does expose you to the possibility of repelling the very people you really want to keep. As a bit of a control freak myself, the thing I've always found most difficult with this is that it also exposes more of the "real you" than perhaps you are actually comfortable with. So, no, this isn't one of my regrets.
Fourth is - "I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends."
Here again, I have a mixed response. On the one hand, I have, with the majority of them anyway. Some have got "lost" through circumstances or choice, but I will say that, should any of them wander back into contact, I would welcome them back and hope they would do the same for me. Thanks to the internet it is, of course, much easier. I think I would have phrased this response differently. My regret is that I didn't make a greater effort to understand my parents and grandparents when I was younger and they were still alive. Now I have that understanding of some of the things that drove them, its too late - for now.
Fifth regret is - "I wish I'd let myself be happier."
Hmm. I'm not at all sure about this one. I have certainly had my low points when I've not been as "happy" as I would have wished to be. Leaving the family home twenty years ago, the kids in tears, my ex-wife's grim expression and my own feeling of total emptiness would probably count as the lowest, but I firmly believe we have a choice in this, we can wallow in our misery, or we can turn the page and drag ourselves out of the mire. I've always chosen to do the latter and I would hope I've taught my kids to do the same.
Yes, I do have regrets. I regret some of the dreams I haven't realised, I regret some of the relationships that haven't worked out well, I regret not telling my friends and family more regularly how much they really mean to me and I regret not having made more effort to share some of the things that gave me real pleasure with them. But, at the same time, I don't "regret" any of the things I've done that have made me who, what and where I am.
Perhaps I'm a far luckier man than I realised!