One of Lord Byron’s friends, George Crabbe (1754-1832), a clergyman, surgeon, and poet, was an underappreciated poet in his lifetime; but Byron considered him one of “nature’s sternest painter, yet the best.” His poem, Wisdom Comes Too Late in Old Age, is an example of Grabbe’s unflinching look at human nature:
We’ve trod the maze of error round,
Long wandering in the winding glade;
And now the torch of truth is found,
It only shows us where we stray’d:
Light for ourselves, what is it worth,
When we no more our way can choose?
For others when we hold it forth,
They, in pride, the boon refuse.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneering psychiatrist who studied grief and near-death experiences, would agree with Crabbe; she writes: “Those who learned to know death, rather than to fear and fight it, become our teachers about life.” No one knows this better than palliative nurses. Enter Australian Bronnie Ware, who spent eight years working as a live-in care giver for terminally ill patients, and was inspired to write a blog post in November 2009 to share some of the wisdom of the dying. The blog, entitled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” connected with millions of readers in a very short time. The blog inspired a book by the same name that was equally popular.
In an interview, Ware reflects on the book’s success: “[The book] is simple, and straight to the point. I could have made it seven or eight regrets, but when I got down to it I realized they were the same regrets but from a different angle… [The book] gives people permission to change direction. That’s what it triggers – it’s a wakeup call and gives them permission to change tack… I was with dying people who said to me: ‘Please share my message so others learn by my mistakes.’
These are the top five regrets that dying patients related to Ware:
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 hadn’t worked 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.
For further reading: The Top Rive Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing by Bronnie Ware (2012)