Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Measuring the Course

As far back as I can remember, one of my dad's routines after he got home from a long run was to immediately jump into the car to drive the route he had run to measure the exact distance of the course.  (This was WAY before GPS systems existed.) Most people would probably choose to sit down to rest as soon as they could after a strenuous workout, but Dad was the kind of person who couldn't stand to let grass grow under his feet.  He taught us to have honor and priorities, to set goals, to set our mind to doing things and then to follow through. WAY before Nike said it, he used to say “Just Do It” whenever he heard someone make an excuse for not doing something they should have been doing; I remember so many tough runs when he would tell me to tuck in behind him so that he could block the wind for me after he'd said “Put your head down and let's just do it.

If Dad could have “driven the course” at the end of his life, if he could have had the opportunity to examine what he had done and the choices that he had made along the way – I wonder to what he would’ve made adjustments.  Not much, I would venture to guess, and I think that’s pretty damn remarkable.  I'm not sure there are many people in this world who would be able to say the same.

Here's a question with some Food for Thought: What would your biggest regret be if today was your last day of life, and how can you attempt to right that regret?

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last few weeks or months of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, and later she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.  Ware writes of the clarity of vision that people often acquire towards the end of their lives and of how others can learn from their wisdom. "When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently," she says, "common themes surfaced again and again."

Here are the top five end-of-life regrets, according to Ware:

"I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."  Looking back over the course of their lives (measuring the course), people often recognize that certain dreams they've had that have not been fulfilled, making this the most common regret of the dying.  And, as we learned when my dad got sick, by the time a person realizes that he needs to hurry to try to realize those remaining dreams, his health (and sometimes other obstacles) often restricts those goals from being attainable.

"I wish I didn't work so hard." Ware says that this was a regret shared by every male patient she cared for (and some of the women too).  What they wished they had done instead of staying late at the office so many times was to have gone to their children's ball games or school programs or to have spent more time with their spouse or other loved ones.  

"I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings."  Ware says that many people reported that they had suppressed their emotions in order to keep peace with others.  They regretted not having told someone that they were angry with them - or that they loved them.  Sometimes this is a regret that can be addressed in the final stages of life, but many times the years that have passed since the issue began make it impossible to right on down the road.

"I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends."  In the midst of our hectic daily lives, it's easy to lose track of people who have meant so much to you and whose impact you may not realize until it's too late.  Again, sometimes when the person who is dying expresses this regret, loved ones from the past can be contacted, but many times it isn't possible.  

"I wish that I had let myself be happier."   The realization that death is near can give a person new perspective on things, and one of the things that is commonly realized is that happiness is a choice.  The clarity that often comes at this stage of life helps people to see the good in their lives much more clearly than they did before.  Other things like material goods no longer seem important.  People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible, but it is not money or status that hold true value for them as they near the finish line - it's love, both given and received.  

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