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  • Writer's pictureJTF

Bronnie Ware's The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

Updated: May 22, 2021

Who is it for: People who question, empathetic individuals.

What makes it special: Author tackles the subject of death with honesty, respect and kindness. She delivers powerful lessons without clouding over the humanity of those whose shared them.

Let's make some unnecessary labels: Personal development, psychology, life journey, finding meaning.

Bronnie Ware's book the top five regrets of the dying is a personal memoir and an exercise of introspection, both for the author and the reader. It would have been impossible for her to write such a tactful, compassionate, and honest recount without first experiencing within her own experiences the power of mindfulness and self-awareness.

Contrast is one of the best ways to achieve perspective. In this regard, the author brings plenty between her own experience and that of her clients - mostly affluent elderly members of society in Australia. Being herself a country girl, and after taking an early exit from the constant race of anxiety and empty achievement promoted by her previous life in banking. She weaves the essence of her clients between time and space with contrast of her own experiences. She looks past their circumstances and belongings to deliver an honest and caring recollection of what the last days were for them while speaking of her own journey.

While the book's title may spark anxiety for those concerned not with the idea of dying but of living poorly, her attentiveness to detail and compassion makes for a journey full of humanity and insight without preachiness. One were the most potent observations are the author's refusal to lose sight of her clients' dignity. She honors everyone's story individually and without prejudice. The narrative's strength resides in not trying to offer trite and overly simplistic promises of life and meaning.

The message of the book is simple yet impactful. Do not waste time chasing the life you ought to have; live your own. A statement often exemplified by the recount of her experiences caring for her clients. It is a lesson she learned while in service to others.

Some may argue the privilege in which her clients spent their final hours does not apply to them. However, while their circumstances may be different, the principles remain the same. Life gains meaning through connection to it and others. It is nurtured with things which bring joy and meaning to ourselves. In this sense, the book honors the request of those whose stories she recounts. It is a constant desire of her clients to pass their lessons to the author. Then it is her objective to share it with the readers.

It is important to mention that the book is an autobiography, not a compilation of third-party stories. In it, the author describes her feelings of isolation. She acknowledges it as one of the hardest and loneliest experiences, one exemplified by the elderly, who not only lose their chance to reach out to others but at times lose the opportunity to reach within themselves. It comes as no surprise that the author's empathy comes from her struggles, including utter helplessness and despair. Once again, she brings perspective to her journey in the same way she honors her clients' stories.

In the end, for the dying, all which is left are their memories. A life's legacy lived either on their own terms or those of which society expected for them. Regrets abound for the missed opportunities, for the lack of courage by those who experienced their last moments in retrospection of what could have been.

It is a fair assumption to recognize our species as creatures of habit. Thus, it is plausible to argue that until we replace old habits with new ones, those who experience life waiting for the next stage to come are likely to repeat the cycle multiple times until it is too late. At the same time, those who engage, those who open their hearts and minds to new possibilities, they are more likely to experience fulfillment beyond their expectations.

The cost of living a life without alignment goes beyond the cost of botched opportunities, poor experiences, or troubled paths. In her recount, none of the participants regret having done and failed at something, but they all regret not having tried at all. So, it would appear the meaning of life is connected to following their North Star and forging relationships shared upon their values, relationships based in mindfulness and experienced with presence.


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