5 Of The Top Regrets Of The Dying

Each of us writes his own obituary every day. Most of us hope that final newspaper notice will somehow reflect a life well lived and some kind of lasting legacy. With the hectic pace of today’s world, most do not reflect on this too much. Physicians, hospice workers, clergy, and close family members of those who have faced the end of life have often heard expressions from the dying of what might have been done differently.

Here are some of the more common regrets.


1.  Adventureadventure

Many have chided themselves for accepting dull mediocrity. They wish they had traveled more, tasted the food of different cultures, bicycled in the mountains, and zip-lined over a beautiful mountain gorge. Life, they think, might have been more meaningful if dotted with a few more unique and exhilarating experiences.


2.  Time Management

Time management busy man

Many facing death will voice disappointment at having applied their time and effort misguidedly on the wrong things. Suddenly, work, career, politics, and social standing become secondary to pushing a child on a swing, catching fireflies, fishing, catching up with friends, or reading a good book.


3.  Worry Less

Happy couple worry free on bikes

When days are numbered and time is short, people come to realize that time spent in worry was simply a waste. Worry, they say, accomplished nothing and caused a lot of anguish. “Don’t worry, be happy,” they counsel.


4.  Service to God/Otherspraying-on-beach

Many, who face the certainty of death or who have had a near death experiences, will often exhibit a profound sense of serenity. Many times they express with conviction that this is not the final end. They report having seen God, angels, or a beautiful place of peace. They frequently wish they had lived with more of an attitude of service toward the “One” who waits on the other side.


5. Loveelderly-couple

A majority of those able to give advice at the end will tell people to be more loving. They make many loving recommendations. Do more special things for your spouse. Spend more time with your kids and grandchildren. Be intentional about nurturing your friendships. Be as charitable as you can be. Avoid putting anybody down.


We all face certain death. None of us will live forever. Just as we study the history of nations and the people who built and destroyed them, we should learn from those who have gone ahead of us into the next dimension. Perhaps, we will have fewer misgivings at the time of our passing if we pay attention to the last concerns of those who have died before us. It is interesting that the things that occupy most of our attention in our daily lives do not seem to matter much to those facing imminent mortality.

Maybe, too, the title of Tim McGraw’s song should be a guide. “Live Like You Were Dying.” If we all did, just possibly, we really might be more apt to get things right and have less uneasiness in the end.



The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing – A book written by an Australian palliative care nurse, who observed the common regrets of those she cared for while in their last days.

Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences”, Jeffrey Long, M.D., Paul Perry, HarperCollins, 2010

Don’t Worry, Be Happy” Bobby McFerrin, Blue Note Records, 1996

“Live Like You Were Dying” Tim McGraw, Curb Records, 2004


About Doug Smith M.D.

Doug has been a full time physician for twenty-three years and continues to work in an emergency room setting. In addition to the day to day practice of medicine, he has a particular interest in medical education.
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