End of Life Matters
End of life Doula Melissa Murphy, a companion, guide and resource supporting our community in end of life matters.
On this bright April day, while gazing at vividly blue skies over Glengarriff, the thought pops into my mind: ‘what if today was the last day of my life?’ Morbid perhaps, but not an unusual thought for someone regularly engaged in the subjects of death and dying. Whether through spiritual practice, my role as an end of life doula, or the books, courses and social media that I routinely consume, the question seems to return nearly as often as the whatsApp notifications on my phone. Maybe today it’s this especially beautiful Springtime moment that is offering pause, reflection and an appreciation for being alive. Bere Island Radio just interviewed me about my work so perhaps this is the cause for my reflection. It could be thinking about the Death Cafe I plan to attend this weekend or the scattering of ashes ceremony I’m invited to in a week’s time. I’m officially a year older this month and about to celebrate another wedding anniversary so personal milestones are happening too. I’m also holding joy paired with grief as I hear of more shootings in the country of my birth this week. Whatever the reason for this self reflection, I take a deep breath and allow the sobering reality of what’s been happening lately, as well as what is, hopefully, to come. It wasn’t long before this headspace led to recalling the ‘top five regrets of the dying’. Are you familiar with these? Even if you’ve come across them before as I have, they can be powerful reminders; a compass for life and living.
A little background to begin: it was an Australian palliative care nurse called Bonnie Ware who was inspired to document the ‘top five’ based on her years of experience caring for the dying. She wrote that “when questioned about any regrets my patients had, or anything they would do differently, common themes emerged again and again.” The first feels the most profound to me, but I find they land differently each time I revisit them. Number one: (which has been said to be the most common regret of all) ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.’ Number two: ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.’ Number three: ‘I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.’ Number four: ‘I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends’ and number five: ‘I wish I had let myself be happier.’
Do any of these ring true for you? Which resonates most in your heart? Do you feel you have any regrets, and if so, what might they be if this was the last day of your life? The things that arise for me in this moment are not having my house in order; meaning I feel I still have a good bit of unnecessary stuff that I’d loathe for someone else to have to go through and disperse. I’m also reminded of recent circumstances where there may have been tension, misunderstanding or conflict. How did I handle it? What did I say? And were these words ones that I’d be ok with saying to someone if they were my the last; and therefore, how I might potentially be remembered?
If you wish to explore more, there is the book ‘The Top Five regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, (2011)’. There have been other top fives and even top tens crafted over the years. These too, can be enlightening. Asking yourself or others my original question which bears repeating: ‘what if today were the last day of your life?’ offers for illuminating conversation. It’s been said that regrets go beyond wishing you’d tried skydiving (although I’d certainly name adventure as an essential in life!) If you’ve been reading my columns for a little while, you might have noticed my love for quotes. They also tend to pop into mind when I’m writing. The one that highlights having as little regret as possible for me is by American writer E.B. White: “I get up every day determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.”
To learn more or to connect with Melissa, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.starsbeyondourskin.com.
She also welcomes your questions or ideas for future columns.