Things people never say in hospice
Four years of my professional life were spent working in hospice. Director of bereavement and pastoral care. Simply put, four of the best years of my life. Creative, energizing and a daily learning curve. A downer? Absolutely not! Quite the opposite. More hopeful, inspirational, meaningful.
I listened to the mortals in the bed. Talked to them. Was always struck by how undramatic they were. Not a lot of 11th hour philosophy or religion. More, I was struck by the simplicity of things. Stories. Memories.
Just kinda wrapping things up. Maybe talking sports, world events, politics. I often had the feeling this is exactly the interaction I would have had with this patient had I met them in their living room a year before the terminal diagnosis.
But, from time to time, the mortals in the bed would trust you with their regrets. Death shines a light unspeakably bright on what really matters. And, standing in the imminent shadow of death, hospice patients often inventory the treasures they missed.
A friend introduced me to the work of Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, writer and singer/songwriter who spent part of her profession in hospice palliative care. Ware is the author of “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A life transformed by the dearly departed.”
The “top five” are no surprise. Not when you say them out loud.
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 didn’t work so hard. (Ware says this one has a particular masculine twist. Men lament missing the childhoods of their children. Men lament time not spent with the beloved mate.)
3. I wish I would have had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I would have stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish I would have allowed myself to be happier. (We humans tend to act as if there is a “Happiness Authorization Board” whose permission we must be granted before we can be allowed to revel in the miracle of this existence.)
In my heart, I nod at this author whom I have never met. Yes, those are the great themes. I heard them, too. The dying teach us.
Yes, I listened to the mortals in the hospice beds. What they said, and what they didn’t say. The latter is just as important.
Things people never say in hospice
• I should have vacuumed more often.
• I just forgave way too many people.
• As a child, I had too many competent, supportive adults in my life.
• I regret the way I neglected my Facebook page.
• I should have worried more.
• I should have envied more.
• There never seemed to be enough time to be cynical.
• I was always too merciful in my views of others.
• I should have spent more time at the office.
• I told my wife/husband “I love you” too often.
• I wish I would have been better at grudges.
• I was never clear about my racial prejudices.
• I wish I would have made myself sick with alcohol more often.
• My children, you wanna squeeze every drop of bitterness out of life.
• (NAME), would you please read my tweets at my funeral?
• I wish I would have made more time to be catty.
• I really regret the time I spent learning to play the piano.
• I’m having doubts whether I was sufficiently antagonistic toward homosexuals during my life.
• Don’t you just hate the sound of laughter?
• I should have hoarded more.
• I could have used about 12 more meaningless sexual experiences.
• I should have cursed at my children more.
• I should have hit my children more often.
• Can you sit shiva on Twitter?
• I’ve made a photo album of all the people I hate. I want you to have it.
• I regret not taking more selfies.
• Does my butt look big?
• I gave away too much money.
• I missed out on a lot of pornography.
• I’m still mad at (NAME) for not friending me back.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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