One time I opened a fortune cookie and it said, “You will die.” What kind of fortune is that? It didn’t say I would “die soon” or “die tomorrow,” it just stated the plain fact that I will die. Any nurse who has worked in a hospice or extended care facility knows the inevitability of death. It’s a dark thought we don’t like to think about, but perhaps we should think about it regularly. Coming to grips with our own mortality is a good thing – and here’s why: you don’t want the last feeling you have on this earth to be waves of regret.
According to nurses, there are five common themes of regret that surface in their patients:
Boy, don’t I know that one! Not many years ago, I was running myself ragged and flying around by the seat of my pants, without any systems in place. I was working 12 hour days as a personal trainer and small business owner and missing out on the family time I desired. In their dying moments, people often express sorrow that they missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship, as well as new opportunities for growth and happiness. Part of what I do now is coach other trainers how to automate their lives and free up more of their time for leisure. Life is too short to be stuck on the treadmill all day, every day!
In your last weeks, it’s too late to track down old friends, so you need to keep the lines of communication open today. The great thing about true friends is that you can call them up after a long absence and it’s as though no time has passed at all. You just pick up right where you left off. This point relates to the last one – if you worked less, you would have more time to maintain your golden friendships. It’s easy to become caught up in your own life and find yourself too busy to give your friends the time and effort they deserve. I like to combine my priorities. There are always a few friends I love working out with – and since they know I’ll be training every day, they know this is a good time and place to catch up with me.
This one is especially common for men who have suppressed their feelings to either put up a wall of protection or to keep peace with others. Keeping emotions pent-up creates a mediocre life and prevents people from ever blossoming into leaders. Many people can even attribute long-harbored bitterness or resentment with the illnesses they are now dying from. It’s common for people to suddenly express their emotions to family and friends suddenly in their last moments, causing loved ones to feel as though they’d missed out on the “real” person all these years. I may be a joker, but I tell my wife and daughter I love them every day. I tell my trainers that I appreciate all the hard work and effort they put in. It’s liberating, actually!
Happiness is a choice. Yet, people often allow themselves to be controlled by habits, patterns, comfort zones, emotions, and external situations. They may feel they are particularly prone to “bad luck.” They often say things like “If I were thinner,” “If I were healthier,” “If I had more money,” and “If I had more time.” Sometimes people want to project a certain image, whether it be “the tough, stoic rock” or the “pitiable poor sourpuss.” We play all sorts of games to get people to come to our side. When you are dying, you no longer care about keeping an image. You learn to let these things go and look inside to ask, “Have I done everything I could to be happy?” If you’re not smiling and laughing every day, you’re not choosing happiness. If you’re not choosing happiness, you’re not living life to the fullest. When you are joyful, you attract more joy into your life. I’m no physicist, but I know this to be true.
This is actually the most common regret of all. People suddenly find that their entire life has been spent doing what others expected of them, and not what they truly wanted to do. Their dreams and aspirations have been unfulfilled and now they must make peace with the choices that were made. Health is freedom, but many people don’t realize this until it’s too late. I had this epiphany back when I was making chump change. I didn’t want to die knowing I never had that garage full of sports cars, I never had that vacation home in Vegas, I never had that successful multi-million-dollar business I’d always dreamt of. As the saying goes, “Carpe Diem”… Seize the day.