Thursday, June 2, 2011


Yesterday I read an article written by Bonnie Ware, a veteran nurse who has cared for dying patients and who has taken time to record their sharing of regrets they faced in their final days. I was moved by the article, but it did not necessarily surprise me. Perhaps it's my fascination with reading memoirs and biographies, or maybe it's simply all those commencement speeches I share with my AP students as they prepare to write their own each June for their English final. In any case, I'm drawn to such conversations but I find the pieces of wisdom to be items of truth I have already spent a lot of time thinking about. Tonight, at the risk of sounding morbid, I'm again contemplating Ms. Ware's list of the top five regrets people have as they are dying.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This can be checked off as a regret I do not have. I am fully confident that the life I have lived thus far has been a life I chose for myself. I give great credit to my parents who, while always supportive of me, never pushed me towards any particular path. They were incredibly trusting of my decisions and they let me carve my own way. If there is anyone or any one group of people who may have expectations of me that I have been influenced by, it's been my children and my teen students. But I will forever go to my deathbed believing that when you make the choice to become a parent or even a teacher, you owe it to your children to be the best damn parent and/or teacher you can be. And that understanding and acceptance of complete responsibility takes a hell of a lot of courage.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. Okay, I get it. This regret speaks to those who put too much time and focus on earning a living at the expense of spending time with their loved ones. I do work awfully hard and sure, there are times when I feel guilt that I have to skip a sports event or be holed up in my bedroom correcting papers on a sunny afternoon when I'd rather be hanging out with my children or going out on a date with my husband. But let's be realistic. I chose to become a teacher. As much as I would love to be able to blow off my work, that's not an option for me. Teaching enriches my life and the life of my children. I would not be as good a teacher if I were not a parent and likewise, I would not be as good a parent if I had not become a teacher. I truly believe that. I am blessed to have a career that I consider a calling and which gives me every evening, weekend, school vacation, holiday, and summer off to be with my teacher husband and children. I can manage my correcting schedule to my needs and yes, I do put in an awful amount of correcting time and my summers must be balanced between fun and coursework, but I chose a very family-friendly career. I may work hard but I value time with my spouse and family and over the years I have learned how to turn off that switch so as to be present with my loved ones.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Does anyone out there think I have a problem with this one?! Nope. You'll always know how I feel about a particular issue. I'm an actress when I need to be, but it's a rare day when I suppress my feelings when I feel the need to express them. Enough said.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. This one could have become a regret if I had not made a few changes in recent years. I've long said that my best friends are very much like me; they value time with family and are very busy people. Yet, when we get together we can quickly re-establish our friendship. Still, a few years ago I found myself feeling regret that I was not more social. I'd always been surrounded by friends in my younger years. Where had everyone gone? I did some thinking on the subject and began taking steps to turn this around for myself. I still dedicate a great percentage of time to be with just my children and my husband, but I have worked harder to get together with friends, to write to them, to listen, to make more of an effort to visit with one another. So, I still have to nurture these friendships as time marches on, but I've been much happier lately knowing how many good people I have as friends. I'm no longer afraid I've lost friendships. I may not be a wealthy woman, but I'm rich in friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. I completely believe that happiness is a choice. It may not always be an easy choice but the world will always contain pain and hardship and those conflicts and challenges can never be shaken. Still, I have a choice every day of life. I can succumb to the evils and to the sorrows in life, or I can rise above and see the good in the world and in its people. This is not to say that there will be periods of time when depression won't win out, but for me there are tools I know I can turn to when those dark days become too numerous. When I need help to see the light, to be happy, I know who to turn to, what to turn to, and how to proceed to feel better. There is nothing more inspiring to me than to be reminded of those less fortunate than I who live their lives in joy. It may not always be easy when life throws so much at me at times, but I choose to be happy.

Having tackled Ms. Ware's list of life regrets, I have to add that I do have a few regrets in my life, not many, but a few. Here's a couple:

1. I spent too much money on toys my children did not need. (Ah well, live and learn. New parents, take note!)

2. I wish I'd continued with art classes after 8th grade, had played softball in high school, and had taken dance lessons in college. (But I will get back to my love for acrylic painting, I'll continue to play wiffle ball with my kids, and lessons or no lessons, I'll never stop dancing!)

Maybe I'll feel differently when I'm on my deathbed someday but I do not think I'll have too many regrets. I have been blessed to live my life as I choose, happily and fulfilled. I try very hard not to let a day go by without confronting those issues that nag at me, reminding me there is a better way or pushing me to follow the right path, however or wherever I believe that to be. I'm a lucky woman who has paid attention to the wisdom shared by others. I sometimes wish I'd done more to help others or to have caused less pain by my words or actions, but I also believe that life is a journey and we cannot avoid making a few wrong turns every now and then. The trick is to make time to pause and to reset that inner GPS to get back on course. So onward I go. I've learned how to apologize to others when necessary and how to forgive myself when I need to. Yet again, my 2011 mantra rings true... No fear. No expectations. Let's just see what happens.

And now, before it's 5:00am and I regret staying up too late...I'm heading to bed. Good night!

1 comment:

  1. Those are some interesting regrets. I'd have to say that I'm generally right there with you, Anne. Most of my regrets revolve around money I've unwisely spent and guilt surrounding the deaths of my parents: if I'd done this and not that, if I'd said " ....", if I had known then what I know now.