The Zookeeper’s Regrets

I saw a poster the other day that showed a small dog leaping through the air. The caption read, “Live like someone left the gate open.”

The past few years I’ve felt like someone left the gate open alright. The gate to the Our Retirement Home in May_Fotormonkey cage. And I’m the zookeeper.

If you combine the poster, my feelings, and an article from The Guardian I’ve just re-read, you’ve got potential for disaster. The article is titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Susie Steiner. This was published in 2012, but I would wager that it is still true today. Allow me to include this article here in its entirety. It won’t take you long to read. Don’t let it take you a lifetime to achieve.

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There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. A palliative nurse who has counseled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

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 realize 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 honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked 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.”

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.”

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

“Often they would not truly realize 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.”

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize 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.”

What’s your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?

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I’m guilty of every one of those regrets she points out. I’ve been trying to work through them, but I can’t even make it to number two. I’ve attempted to put my life into perspective many times. Sometimes I think I might have a grasp of it, and then something just happens. Don’t ask me what, because if I knew, I’d correct the problem.

So, I’m going to start down that path again. I’ve always loved to travel, and look forward to what might lie just beyond the horizon. So, in about a month I’m going to start my house, put a moving hunk of black asphalt beneath me, and see where the wind takes me. By accomplishing that I’m going to put a strangle hold on number two. I’ve been working way too much. Life is too short to spend a third of it doing more than I need to be doing in order to enjoy the short existence I might have on this earth.

Numbers three through five are going to be a challenge. I know. All I have to do is do it. For me, that is easier said than done. I can’t say that I carry bitterness and resentment around, but I think I could say I love you more. It might even help if I told more people what I really felt about them. Maybe not help them, but it damned sure  would help me. Yes, I think I need to work on number three.

I can only think of one reason, maybe two, why number four is a problem. Life happens and time just gets away from us. The longer it goes without touching base with friends the more awkward it seems to become, and nobody likes awkwardness. I’m going to work on that.

I’m not sure I have the personality for number five. Instead of trying to put the monkeys back in their cage maybe it’s time I swing from the trees with the lot of them. I might fall and hurt myself, but I’ll have fun along the way. I’ll have to think about that some and get back to you.

So, let me ask you. How do you stand with these five issues? Are they going to be regrets somewhere down the road for you?

Good night, Mrs. Jackson, wherever you are.

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