Life. It very well may end before I’m done. Odds are fairly strong I think.
Not because I know my end time with any certainty. It’s just likely how things go. Here’s my logic. Days end without me having done all I wanted. Or intended. If that’s how days go, what makes me think my end will come only after I’ve done it all – whatever it is?
If it should end before I’m done, then…well, I guess the question is what’s going to be left undone?
Google any phrase about the regrets of the dying and you’ll find all kinds of stories, books, and more. Some Australian nurse and her book get some top honors from Google. Reviews are mixed about the book. Seems lots of people are trying to figure out what dying people regret most. Many just make it up as they go. I’m skeptical. And cynical. After all, I’ve sat with quite a few people as they lay dying. Unconscious. Labored breathing. Unable to share with me whatever might be going on in those moments. Still others, who have a diagnosis from which they know they will not recover, still put in the work to delay death as long as possible. In my experience, most prefer to avoid the conversation opting rather to make the most of whatever time remains. Who can blame them?
My experience may be abnormal. I simply haven’t found dying people filled with conversations about regret. And admittedly, I’ve not taken it upon myself to ask. Instead, I’ve chosen to inquire what, if anything, I might be able to do for them. I figure their regrets are theirs to do with as they please. Do they have them? Correctly or not, I’ve always concluded that all the rest of us do, so what makes the dying person exempt? Nothing!
Here’s what the Australian nurse claims are the top 5 regrets of patients she cared for during the final 12 weeks of their lives. Pardon my reluctance to take these as empirical truths, or even widespread common regrets. Maybe. Maybe not.
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
My experience with the dying is certainly not empirical, but I have heard numbers 2 and 3 before. And similar to 4, I’ve heard a few express regrets at not resolving differences with friends. I’ve also heard a universal focus on God and spiritual pursuits, which don’t even make the nurse’s list. The Bible answers our greatest questions. Where do we come from? Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? Scripture answers all of these questions so it has never surprised me to hear the dying express regrets in not giving that even more attention.
If you’re irreligious or even agnostic or atheist you still are facing the same truth as the rest of us. Money, stuff, and achievements don’t provide sufficient measurements of a person’s worth. Rush Limbaugh died recently. For the last number of years, his contract had an annual value of $85 million. People estimate his net worth to have been north of $600 million. No matter how you feel about him, his popularity and impact on talk radio are undeniable. Do those things properly depict the man? Do they reveal who he really was? Reports have been widespread, even among his critics, who had little knowledge about how much money the man gave way to various charitable causes. Do those contributions define him? I don’t know, but I didn’t know him except as a radio personality.
IF – and it’s an enormous “if” – you think this life is all there is, then that might alter how you approach life. IF you think this life isn’t all there is, but that all “pretty good people” go to some better place after this life, then you’re stuck wrestling with what it means to be “pretty good.” I know people who think it’s pretty good to lie, cheat, steal and injure as long as they get what they want. Others have a very different standard.
Those big questions remain:
Why are we here?
How did we get here?
Where are we going?
What matters most?
Who am I?
Are these merely subjective questions with subjective answers. Whatever I think and feel is right? Whatever you think and feel is also right? How do we know that works?
No absolute truths. That’s how many prefer to see things. That’s why you see so many people talk about “my truth.” There’s his truth. And her truth. Their truth. My truth. Often, they’re very different. So can they all be true simply because we stick that label on them?
What does any of that matter?
Because it’ll have a direct impact on if it should end before I’m done! Done doing what? Done making money? Done making connections with people who can benefit my business? Done with producing another podcast? Done with coaching another CEO? Done with coaching another city manager? Done with enjoying another cartoon or song?
If it should end before I’m done means I should likely get busier figuring out what I need to get done!