Biggest Regrets in Life and Working Through Them
How to help loved ones through their biggest regrets at the end of life.
At 30 years old, Kyle Scheel threw himself a funeral instead of a birthday party. He wasn’t dying. But he wanted to say goodbye to his 20s in a memorable way. So, he built a 15-foot Viking ship out of cardboard, and invited his friends and family to help him light it on fire. As the flames burned, Kyle said goodbye to all the grief, sorrow, and regrets from the last decade of his life. The video of his ceremony went viral. Many viewers felt inspired to let go of their own past failures, heartaches, and regrets. This led Kyle to build an even bigger cardboard Viking ship to burn the stories of regret and pain for the 20,000 people he interviewed. In his book, How to Host a Viking Funeral, Kyle examines the power of letting go of regret. As it turns out, people share common regrets at the end of life, but also throughout their lifetimes.
Here are the most common regrets in life that people face before death and how to work through them.
#1 Most Common Regret Before Dying: “I wish I’d lived true to myself”
According to Bonnie Ware, a former palliative care professional turned author, this is the most common regret before death. As the end of life approaches, people tend to reflect back on how they sacrificed their own dreams and happiness to please others. They regretted wasting precious time living the way others thought they should, instead of being true to themselves. Some wish they had taken that trip. Others wish they’d worked toward their dream rather than a more “sensible” job, or lived true to their identity instead of trying to please others.
How to help live a truer, more authentic life
Reflecting on past accomplishments, achievements, and happy memories can dull the sting of this regret. It may help to set a goal, such as writing letters expressing the truth to family and friends. If possible, your loved one could take a trip to visit a special place they’ve always wanted to see. If travel is not possible, consider bringing the experience to them. For instance, if they’ve always wanted to go to Italy, decorate their patio with string lights and enjoy an authentic Italian dinner al fresco.
#2 Most Common Regret Before Dying: “I wish I’d shared my feelings”
Whether it’s unexpressed love or suppressed pain, people often regret not sharing how they felt sooner. Things often go unsaid to keep the peace, only to fester over time. Not only does this contribute to ill health, it can also prevent friends and family members from healing old wounds. Unfinished business is one of the biggest regrets at the end of life. With the clarity that emerges before death, people wish they had expressed their love more often. They also long for closure from unresolved conflicts.
How to help effectively communicate your feelings and needs
If your loved one is expressing regret for withholding their feelings in the past, ask them to tell you how they feel and listen to what they share. Encourage them to be honest, and respond with compassionate honesty in return. If they are estranged from someone, they may find peace in writing a letter to that person, whether they send it or not. Others may prefer to make a few phone calls or arrange for visits so they can express their feelings before they pass. This can help both parties to heal.
#3 Most Common Regret Before Dying: “I wish I’d enjoyed more time with my loved ones”
One of the biggest regrets before dying is too much time spent working and not enough time enjoying friends and family. While it is important to do fulfilling work, some find that they could have prioritized family a bit more. They wish they hadn’t missed vacations and playtime with children and grandchildren. People often realize too late how precious and fleeting time together is in this lifetime.
How to help make the most of your time with the people you love
It can be comforting to reflect on the valuable memories shared with friends and family. Looking through old photo albums and laughing about the good times can serve as a reminder of a life well lived. If possible, arrange visits and phone calls with close friends and family. Remind your loved one how much you appreciated the time you spent together.
Carpe Diem – Learn to Seize the Day and a Live a Life With Fewer Regrets
We can avoid the biggest regrets at the end of life by living each day to the fullest, long before death approaches. We can learn from the most common regrets of others so we don’t make the same mistakes. The biggest takeaways: living true to yourself, sharing how you feel with your loved ones, and prioritizing time together can keep regrets at bay. It can also help you create many happy memories for years to come. People looking back with regret should know that they’re not alone. As long as we’re still here, it’s never too late to reach out and connect with loved ones. If we focus on what’s truly important and keep things in perspective, we may be able to look back on life with fondness and without regret. But for those unavoidable moments of loss, pain, and failures, holding a Viking funeral at the end of each decade is not a bad idea.
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