The Biggest Regret of the Dying


As a palliative care-worker, Bronnie Ware had a front row seat to watch the last three to twelve weeks of the lives of terminally ill patients.

Over her eight year period caring for the dying, Ware was privy to their darkest moments and last words on their life’s regrets.

To her surprise, the same themes of regrets would resurface over and over again.

Here’s the biggest regret of them all.

(Courtesy of rawpixel via Unsplash)

I Wish I…

“Success doesn’t depend on someone saying yes…It is about having the courage to be you regardless”- Bronnie Ware

In her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing (Audiobook), Ware shares the story of one of her palliative patients, Grace, and the greatest life regret she had before her death.

Ware described Grace as “a tiny woman with a huge heart,” who had been married for more than fifty years and lived the life that everyone expected of her.

She endured an unhappy marriage with a tyrannical husband, and often dreamed of living independently and travelling the world.

In her eighties, Grace finally found the long-awaited freedom to live the life she had dreamed of, but this didn’t last long.

Grace fell terminally ill, lost all of her strength and became bedridden. Her freedom and dreams had vanished. It was too late.

In her state of anguish, Grace would lament to Ware and say, “Why didn’t I just do what I wanted? Why did I let him rule me? How can it be possible I have waited all of these years to be free and independent and now it is too late?”

She would repeatedly tell Ware, “don’t you ever let anyone stop you from doing what you want.”

Grace had done everything society expected from her—held fast to her unhappy marriage, raised children, kept up appearances—but on her deathbed, she was overwhelmed with feelings of sadness and regret about her life.

Like Grace, Ware discovered that the majority of her dying patients shared this one common regret:

I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Your Time is Limited

“Life doesn’t owe us anything. We only owe ourselves, to make the most of the life we are living, of the time we have left, and to live in gratitude.”

― Bronnie Ware

Human beings are puzzling creatures.

On one hand we know that death is inevitable. We know that our time is limited here on earth. We know that life is short.

On the other hand, we live like we’re immortal. We live like a long healthy life is guaranteed, and we’d have enough time to achieve our dreams.

The former is reality, the latter is an illusion. But day in and day out, we live in this illusion of limitless time.

The majority of our lives are spent living for other people—family, friends and colleagues—instead of living for ourselves.

We let the fear of failure and rejection hold us back from taking action towards our goals. And spend valuable years comparing ourselves to others, instead of being grateful for what we already have.

Our spare time is spent consuming information on the web, watching television shows and playing “keeping up” with our virtual friends on social media.

The mass media has done a spectacular job of distracting us from facing the reality of death: one day, you will die and never have another shot at life.

It’s unfortunate that for most of us, it takes coming face to face with death to realize this truth, and start living a life that is true to ourselves. But just like Grace, it’ll be too late.

There’s a saying that the “wise person learns from his mistakes, but the even wiser person learns from others mistakes.”

Learn from the regrets of the dying and give yourself permission to live a life that is true to yourself.

What are you waiting for? The clocking is ticking. Your time is limited.