Wishes and Regrets of the Dying by By Eileen Stanzione, LCSW-C, PhD, Director of Bereavement Services
At Hospice of Washington County, we have learned people often have wishes and regrets during their final days, some that can be resolved and others that cannot.
Death inspires people to reveal or consider revealing parts of themselves that may have been unspoken. It may be dreams or wishes that were unfulfilled or it may be secrets. One of our social workers described that she had worked with a patient who wished she had had the opportunity to travel. A Viet Nam Vet said he always wanted to go back to Viet Nam as the “love of his life” was there as well as a child he fathered with her. He also had a lifelong regret that he hadn’t told his American children that they had a step-brother in Viet Nam. Another woman revealed she had never told her child she had been adopted. Dying is a person’s opportunity to shed their secrets; some, however, take them to the grave.
When people are dying, they often feel pressured to make amends, to confess, to express bitterness, or deep contentment. Dying in peace is part of our society’s mandate for the individual. We put Rest in Peace on our tombstones and on our social network sites. People go about seeking peace of mind and resolution in their own ways.
Marriages, births and deaths are critical moments in a family’s life. These events often surface problems the family have not addressed or resolved. Unfortunately, when someone is dying, family members, and the dying person, are coping with the illness with all of its complications, as well as intense emotions and, at times, discord.
One of our social workers noted that while “there are oh so many regrets; the biggest appears to be family discord regrets.” Other regrets pertain to the milestones a person will miss because of death. Many patients say they will not live to see their child or grandchildren graduate from college, marry or have a child. Others regret leaving their homes. Still others regret they did not care more for their bodies and that they are leaving family sooner than perhaps they would have, if they had not smoked, drank, and/or monitored their blood sugars and diet more closely. Finally, many people become very attached to their pets and worry “who will truly want and love them as I have?”
In the end, people don’t talk about their jobs or their cars or their accomplishments. They express gratitude that their loved ones cared for them 24/7 and they wish they had spent more time with them, and had had the nerve to express their true feelings to those they loved and appreciated. We talk to many grieving people who have lost a loved one and who are wracked with guilt about what was said or not said, done or not done. Sadly, we can’t undo what we have done or not done, said or not said. But we can learn from those who are dying about what to strive for while we are living.