As my circle of influence has gotten to know who I am, what I do, and why, every now and then I will get sent to my Facebook page the article about the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware. It is synonymous with inspiring people to live fully before they die and is based around experiences that people on their death bed wish to extol to the living while they still have a life to live. I love this concept and I believe it has been of great benefit to many lives around the world.
One of the quirks gifted to me upon my birth was an insatiable desire to look beyond the surface of things, people, language, words, paradigms, theories, and well…everything really. And it struck me, after being sent these top 5 regrets that the word regret may still have an impact on how people perceive death, namely their own death or the death of those closest to them. I believe that how we say what we say impacts every area of our lives. You might know that if you tell a child he/she is stupid long enough they begin to believe you and then find they tell themselves the same thing as adults or worse yet, their own children. You also might know the quote by Henry Ford that states “whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are always right.”
So this got me thinking about regret itself and the word regret. They don’t sound very happy do they? Regret is sadness and of course these top regrets are designed to inspire, but what if we change the language around? Regret, according to the dictionary, is described as to be upset over past actions. I then looked for the antonyms for regret and it came up with contentedness, happiness, satisfaction.
What then, could create a life of happiness, contentedness and satisfaction that was not born from regret? I thought of another way to reframe regret which spins a positive light right from the outset.
These are my 5 Reasons to Embrace your Death:
5 Reasons for Embracing your Death
Transformation Detailed descriptions of each point are listed below...
1. Meaning Viktor Frankl wrote about meaning in his penultimate book Man's Search for Meaning, written about his time during the Holocaust as a Jewish psychiatrist. During his incarceration and as a way of finding his own way to survive, Frankl, fortunate enough to be of value to the Nazis', observed and became curious about why some prisoners lived longer than others. He wrote his book entirely on scraps of prescription pads that he stuffed into the lining of his jacket so that no one would destroy his work. What he found was that, "Those who have a 'why' to live can bear with almost any 'how'."
Frankl noticed that if people believed they had loved ones outside the camps that were waiting for them, it made them persevere, to not give up so quickly and to want to find meaning in their suffering. If their lives, their suffering, and their sacrifice meant something then they could hold on or least die knowing their lives had somehow meant something in the world.
2. Purpose Meaning and purpose often overlap in their definitions but one can have a greater purpose for their lives without it having to mean anything to anyone! I think of Buddhist monks in this case. Their path or purpose is that of spiritual enlightenment and only by example do they wish to enlighten others. They do not wish to impart a reason why, for in Buddhism there is only what is, what is not, and impermanence. If you are not Buddhist then you may be challenged with this concept. Most people want to have a reason for their existence and when they can’t find their reason or purpose they may experience something called existential anxiety…also commonly called a ‘mid-life crisis’.
Without purpose some may feel their lives are like a ship without its rudder, directionless and pointless. The belief that life is purposeless can lead people into destructive, unhealthy living, and a disregard for those around them. They may feel angry and have no idea how they got so lost along the way. With some help from either a coach, counsellor or other soul searching therapy people often are able to find what they love, their passion and their purpose.
3. Legacy The legacy we leave when we die can look very different depending on your circumstances. Some people leave debt, despair or anger as their legacies. Others leave nothing in their wake leaving loved ones full of forever unanswered questions. The type of legacy we choose to leave our loved ones, and humanity, directly depends on the life we live here and now.
My definition of legacy is not just about material on monetary possessions we amass during our lifetime. In fact that accumulated 'stuff' means very little to many people when those they have loved die. The kind of legacy I write of here is about the emotional legacy we leave behind. This is what people remember, how we made them feel, how loved they felt. How we behave with people, how we love people, how we respect people, how trustworthy we are, and how well we treat people in our lives is the legacy to think about leaving behind when we die.
One of the regrets that Bronnie Ware writes of is 'I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.' This regret is clearly a legacy that cannot be undone once someone dies. Knowing this regret keeps me keen to let the people in my life know I care and that they are loved!
4. Contribution For many people, feeling like they have contributed to society in a positive way eases them through the process of dying. As a volunteer in the Palliative Care Unit of a hospital, I have heard many times that, for those who are ready to die, they have lived full lives. They feel they have made a difference to those around them. Of the patients who have regrets, one of them is that their lives didn't matter to anyone. They feel anger and bitterness.
It doesn't really matter what that contribution looks like. It doesn't have to be altruistic or fame driven. It doesn't even have to be known to anyone other than yourself! There are unsung hero's everywhere, everyday folks going about their daily lives, but they contribute to the well-being of society nonetheless! What matters most is that in the fullness of your life you feel that you have made a difference to someone other than yourself. It could be as an animal advocate, those animals would know you've made a difference for sure! The person who knowingly gives of themselves for the betterment of the world contributes. This can even begin in childhood, fostered by parents who understand the legacy that they are creating for their children's futures, and in turn their own.
5. Transformation By embracing my death you are in the process of transformation. The birth/death cycle is a process of transformation. Like the phoenix rising from its ashes, we are given opportunities on a daily basis to transform what does not serve our best self or the lives of those we love. We all recognise that we're going to die one day, but how many of you live because of it? Do you accept that change is a form of death? That, to lose a job, is an opportunity to grow? That, when someone dies, there is a double-edged sword of opportunity to go out and live like today might be your last?
Death can occur in many ways, and not just when a person dies. Death can be the end of an identity, an ideal, or the death of hopes and dreams because you're not 20 anymore. The grief can be no less traumatic than the the death of a person or treasured pet, however, there is a caveat here. When I write of death in this particular way, it is by no means meant to lessen the grief, sadness or trauma that comes when a loved one dies. These emotions are valid and very real for the person or people grieved by death and I do not intend to minimise or trivialise their experience. My point here is that, although these heavy emotions occur, that isn't all that we have to experience.
There is also an opportunity with death. When it's used as a catalyst to propel people into living fully, loving fully and learning to let go, then death can be a cause for transformation. This is the flip side that most people don't realise, until they have faced death and their own mortality squarely in the face and said YES! Yes to death and yes to life!
My relationships with friends and family are full and connected deeply. I don't know when any of us is going to die but when it does happen I know that they love me and they know I love them. Death has done this for me. I carry my mortality in my pocket to remind me to live now, love now and always be prepared to let go!
"I thoroughly recommend attending Ava’s seminar, it is very thought provoking and enlightening. It also helped me to gain perspective about what really matters at the end of the day. Ava’s embraced the day with sensitivity and humour and I left feeling like I had gained clarity in being able to come to terms with death."
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"What a fantastic workshop. A workshop on how to live a more passionate and fulfilling life, by exploring your eminent death. Done with humour and honesty - for more info on this intriguing and professional workshop, go to...(this website)"