5 Most Common Things People Think Before Dying

February 25, 2016
It would be tragic to feel sorry for yourself during your last moments. Change the way that you think and act, and be true to yourself – not the way other people want you to be. In your last moments before dying, you want to feel fulfilled, not regretful.

Do you feel like you can’t enjoy the present moment because you’re constantly worried about the future? Sacrificing your happiness at the moment is a high price to pay for such a small benefit. Do you think that one thought before dying is that they are glad they didn’t live in the moment?

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People often sacrifice the present while preparing for the future. This is one of the main reasons we may feel we’re wasting our lives. We may fall into that pattern of thinking we need to do something now in order to have something else in the future.

You can’t worry that you’re destroying your future by enjoying today. You don’t know when you might run out of time.

Normally you might not think about these things until it’s too late, or until your life implodes for one reason or another. When this happens, you’ll be faced with utter chaos and disorder.

Reflections on Life and Death

Many years ago, a nurse named Bronnie Ware, who devoted her life to caring for the terminally ill, unveiled an unusual way of looking at life. She shared the five most common thoughts, reflections, or sorrows of people who were on the verge of passing away. 

In other words, she shared what people think before dying.

The truth is that by reading these, you’re forced to think about how you can evaluate what you are about to lose forever and understand the immense capacity of humankind to feel regret.

Perhaps the most amazing thing, however, is the ability we have to continue growing until we take our very last breath.

Bench and ladder leading to the heavens before dying
Be warned: these are bittersweet thoughts and dreams, filled equally with the taste of hope and a yearning to move forward, and the grief that comes from the inability to learn such things while there was still time.

5 Things People Think Before Dying

1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life that was true to myself, and not what others expected of me.”

Being yourself in a world that’s full of fake people is extremely difficult. However, if you stop to think about the short amount of time you have to get to know yourself and cultivate the type of person you want to be, you might start to feel uncomfortably anxious.

What happens is that this thought is kept at bay for your entire life, locked away inside your head. Your life passes you by while you’re busy organizing and making other plans.

According to nurse Ware, this is the most common thing people think before dying. Far too many of us have a huge list of unfulfilled dreams, goals we deem unattainable, or things that we assume are simply beyond our reach. Is that really the truth, or can you change it? We think the answer is obvious.

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2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”

The daily grind, the stress, the need to work to earn more money to spend or settle stifling debts – we live to work, when we should, in fact, be working to live.

While this is a rather idealistic thing to say, in a perfect world we would be investing our hearts and souls into the work we choose, without stress or pain.

That means that work wouldn’t be such a headache or obstacle to enjoying the small pleasures in life, like spending time with loved ones and family.

This regret means that it’s time to simplify your way of life and learn to be content with what you have. Making that change means you won’t find yourself mourning your decisions on your deathbed.

Before dying play with finger puppets with paint3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings”

In order to find peace within yourself, you must draw out what’s inside you. How many times have you held your tongue out of fear? How many words have been left unsaid due to pride, stubbornness, or anger?

It’s irresponsible and against our nature to bottle up the feelings that need to be experienced and expressed.

4. “I wish I had kept in touch with my friends”

Lack of time, disagreements, and life changes can all distance you from your friends. Having and keeping friends can be a difficult task, but it’s an essential part of who you are that you need to maintain.

Even as you take your last breath, you might regret that it’s too late to tell someone what you always wanted to say. The people you let go from your life are the people you always hold dear in your heart, your loving memories mixed with sorrow.Two hands in shadow reach for each other in the light before dying connection with loved ones

5. “I would have liked to have known true happiness”

In the relentless pursuit of happiness, many people end up wasting their time along the way. You might think that your happiness depends on how much you achieve, but you don’t understand that happiness is not a destination: it’s an attitude.

Even as they take their last breath, some people realize that the key to happiness would have been making the difficult decisions that would have ultimately allowed them to live a fuller life.

To end this discussion, here are some insights regarding the things people think before dying that nurse Ware found thought-provoking and worth sharing:

  • “People grow a lot when confronted with their own mortality (…) I learned to never underestimate the ability of a person to grow. Some changes were phenomenal.”
  • “Before dying, each person experienced a variety of different emotions: pain, grief, anger, denial, and eventually acceptance. Each patient found their inner peace before they departed.”
  • “Somehow, this provides hope and serenity when faced with the fear of death. Just the belief that you’ve grown and accepted your own path in life can bring comfort to its very end.”

By that, I mean that life isn’t just what you think or what you’ve created. Life is what’s happening right now, even as you contemplate your past and the future, which can’t be predicted.

Perhaps you should stop focusing on anticipating everything in your path. Instead, enjoy the roles that chance and opportunity play in your everyday life.

  • Mercer, J., & Feeney, J. (2009). Representing death in psychology: Hospice nurses’ lived experiences. Mortality14(3), 245-264.
  • Dobratz, M. C. (1990). The life closure scale: A measure of psychological adaptation in death and dying. The Hospice Journal6(3), 1-15.