Friday, December 2, 2011

The Top 5 Regrets of People Who Are Dying

Blogger Bronnie Ware, who works with people who are dying, recently wrote a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.

THE TOP FIVE REGRETS OF THE DYING: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing

Ware’s memoir is a poignant reminder to all of us that we need to have a goal.  Namely, we should strive for the goal that at the end of our life, we will be able to say we have lived a life that focused on what is most dear and important to us.   After all, as the saying goes, “Days are long, but life is short.” 

Here is a shortened version of the list of regrets: 

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.

This leads to a question.  To have no regrets in your own life at the end, how might you need to be living today?  Are there things that need to be changed to achieve your ultimate goals for your life? 

On a personal note, I’m glad I altered the trajectory of my life in order to live a life that was more in keeping with my values as a peacemaker.  Since hanging my solo shingle as a mediator and attorney, I am also very gratified for ways that I have enabled some of my clients to live their lives in ways that brought more peace to themselves and their families.  I’ve been able to do this in two primary ways. 

In Elder Law, I’m happy to have been able to help clients arrange their affairs so that essential life (and death) transitions are more peaceful.   I’m not happy when a client dies, of course, but it has been a comforting thought to me when I’ve known that a client’s affairs were well ordered and that no terrible messes awaited their bereaved family members. 

In Family Law, I’ve been able to help families – especially divorcing couples -- rearrange their relationships so that endings are happier.  Sometimes that takes the form of a child being adopted into their “forever home,” while other times that takes the form of helping divorcing parents forge a separation agreement that will help them cooperate as parents even after they are no longer married to one another.   And even in cases where there are no children involved, I feel that mediation of divorce has enabled clients to get through a terrible life crisis with less trauma. 

It took me years and years to gather the courage to buck the mainstream and forge a path as a peacemaking attorney.  And still, I am outside the mainstream of legal practice.  It has been challenging for me, personally, to navigate a path where few have gone before, outside the mainstream of the adversarial role traditionally expected of attorneys.  When I was young, I lacked self confidence to crash through into a totally uncharted and new field of mediation.  I heard about mediation and became passionate about the theory of conflict transformation when I was in my early ‘20’s.  However, I listened to so many other voices telling me it was impossible to be a mediator.  

When I was first out of law school, in the early 1980’s, mediation was a brand new concept.  No lawyer I worked with had ever heard of mediation.  My mentors told me it would be impossible to forge a career as a mediator:  the ethical hurdles for attorneys were quite high (due to the duty of zealous advocacy and dangers from waiver of attorney client privilege); clients would never pay for mediation; it’s just not how things are done; people need a zealous advocate to ensure that their rights are asserted.   I listened to the voices of people who, though surely wiser than myself, were speaking a narrative that was more true for them in their time than for me in my time.  Gathering the courage to break out of the adversarial legal paradigm was an important stride that took me more than two more decades to achieve. 

My peacemaking practice is still out of the mainstream.  In fact, it’s absolutely not politically correct to admit to being a peacemaker.  It’s not just that ideas like peacemaking and conflict transformation are too touchy feely.  There are still attorneys who openly scoff at the idea even of facilitative mediation.   Just last week, one responded to a tweet of mine (promoting dialogue among conflicted parties) with the retort, “Conflict enables dialogue like syphilis enables penicillin.” 

I’m happy that I can now have my own peace in saying that mediation is definitely not appropriate for everyone.   Offering mediation to someone who ridicules the concept of finding peace is like casting pearls before swine.   But for those individuals who earnestly do seek peace, mediation can be a blessing and a godsend. 

Guidance from a peacemaker offers hope of transformation of conflict into opportunity for increased understanding and cooperation.  And when that happens, I am the fortunate one who is blessed to become an instrument of that peace:  a gift that happens sometimes, somehow, and through some measure of Grace given to me by virtue of training, talent, and trust from my clients. 

In the sense of now walking a path more true to my calling, even if it is outside the mainstream, I am really glad that I took a turn in life to follow this calling. 

Among the things that dying people regret, bucking the mainstream is just item number one on this list.  There are also four more!  As we enter the end of 2011 and look forward to the upcoming year, I propose that each of us look at this list  and think how each of us can arrange our lives to feel as good as possible about how we have spent our lives, when we reach the end of our days.  

A link to Ware’s blog post about her book is HERE.


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