So we've had a month to recover from 2011, which for many was a year to forget. As an annual ritual, we might defrag politics and business from our lives in order to re-prioritize our life's purpose. Do ourselves a favor.
Just before Christmas, one of my family members died of cancer. He was too young by anyone's calculations. By his side, when he collapsed to the floor, was his only child, an 8-year-old-daughter.
The scenario was gut-wrenching: Two souls, locked in their mortal journey, approached their crossroads that changed their reality forever.
As he lay there, his body giving way to an exceptionally difficult existence, his family now wonders if he heard the heart of his daughter as she whispered tender assurances.
Certainly, that scene will be seared in her forever, but what we'll never know is what those moments held for him concerning his life choices.
As if on cue, a friend sent me a blog: www.inspirationandchai.com/regrets-of-the-dying.
The author, Bonnie Ware of Australia, reports having spent time with the dying in "palliative care." She shares experiences and some answers, yet for me, there still remain many more questions.
Ware's most comforting discovery is this: "Every single patient found their peace before they departed...every one of them." She claims people do grow when they face "their own mortality." She reports, "I learnt never to underestimate someone's capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal."
She tells readers, five common themes surfaced in her experiences, as summarized here:
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 look back, they see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard. This came from every male patient that she nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship.
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 bitterness and resentment.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. This is a surprisingly common wish. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They stayed stuck in old patterns and habits.
And, then Ware admonishes her readers: "Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness."
Ware's experiences will bless many, but what I find strangely missing from dying people's wishes are the very gifts of service that Ware gave her patients: Where are the regrets over too few acts of service, especially to those they love?
Of course, even service choices require wisdom, again confirming that living life cautiously with a desire to do no harm provides a usable blue-print for living.
As a Christian I have full trust in the promises encompassing "service." All master teachers commend that road, such as Gandhi: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." When done correctly, such sacrifice holds assurances found nowhere else, certainly not in self-centered living.
As for Ware's list, making peace with regrets is a positive part of dying; however I would rather limit my regrets. Thus we serve others and ourselves best when we commit to keep our eyes and hearts open in 2012. And, of course, if we also remember to choose happiness.