The entire wing of the Hospice unit was quiet. It was evening and friends had gone, leaving only a few family members to stay with their loved ones. I was there to see my friend Ron, whose life was quickly ebbing away. He was still lucid, but the cancer that ravaged his body was quickly tightening its grip.
We both knew what was happening, so I invited him to talk about his life and his death. I asked him if he understood that the end of his life was near, and he said yes. Then I asked him this question: as you look back over your life, what do you remember most? What stands out to you now? I’ll never forget his answer.
I can’t tell you the exact words he used, but his thoughts are still clearly etched in my mind. As his eyes misted over, he began to talk about what he believed was wasted time, missed opportunities, and mixed up priorities. As we sat there alone in his room, he quietly talked about regrets.
His first regret was what he described as a lack of humility toward other people. Ron was educated, well read, and consistently managed many people over his career. But his education and position became a liability in his relationships because he lacked the sensitivity and awareness to understand how he came across to others. Only later in life, as his cancer progressed, did Ron make time for truthful introspection, and by then it was too late to salvage many relationships that were meaningful to him. Ron said it like this: “I realized too late that it wasn’t my opinions or my education that people cared about. People embrace genuine, authentic people who are strong enough to be weak and brave enough to be humble.” Strong words from such a weak man.
Second, Ron regretted not living more in the day to day, moment by moment rhythm of life. Because he was so driven, he marked life by living project to project, event to event, and his life became more about planning for what’s happening next instead of reflecting on and celebrating what’s happening now. He sadly recalled making a business deal over the phone while his grandson’s birthday party was going on, and of coming home late night after night to his wife who waited patiently for him. Simple, basic, nondescript, precious moments that a dying man would give anything to have back.
And third, Ron regretted the broken relationships and unrepaired areas of his past that he failed to address. Ron had been in Hospice for several days, and his middle son had yet to come or call. A poorly resolved dispute years earlier had left his son feeling alienated, and although Ron meant to reach out one day, that day never came. And now it was too late.
That night was my last conversation with Ron. He died a couple of days later. He was a good man with many friends. He had a successful career and was respected in his community. But Ron died with regrets.
As I reflect on that night with Ron, I realize that today, right now, I’m at the place in my life that Ron wished he could be. I’m healthy, I’m surrounded by family and friends, and I have a chance to make the needed changes to ensure that I die with no regrets. As I think about it, that would be a great way to honor Ron’s memory.
Thanks for reading, and if you think these thoughts will help someone else, feel free to share them on your social media page. And as always, I would love to hear your experiences.