The dark clouds of Covid have led many people to reassess their priorities. In December 2020, Time magazine ran an article headlined Why the COVID-19 Pandemic has Caused a Widespread Existential Crisis. The article suggests the enforced time at home allowed people to reflect.
Psychiatric professor Jacqueline Gollan from Northwestern University said people were biased towards action. When nothing appears to be happening, we have a strong need to do something.
Jewellers report selling more engagement rings. New online businesses are opening. Rural properties are selling fast.
Marriages are down on previous years, probably due to the limits on numbers at weddings rather than a lack of commitment.
In short, the pandemic has led many of us to take stock and make life-changing decisions.
In this reflective mood, we can learn from Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent many years supporting terminally ill people at home.
She formed strong friendships and listened to their stories and regrets in their final months. This led her to write The Top Five Regrets of the Dying in 2012.
The book is a tool to help the living check in and hit the reset button. Regret No.1 was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”.
Many of Ware’s patients were angry with themselves for letting other people’s expectations rule them. They were now too ill to fulfil their neglected dreams.
This regret of not living a life true to themselves was the most common.
These words can also hold true for many elderly people with reduced mobility and poor physical health.
They may feel some goals and dreams have passed them by. Add Covid restrictions to this and life can seem pretty narrow.
In this situation, a friend, family member or carer can help by listening to their regrets.
When people express guilt or anger about not living true to their heart, do not argue with them. Do not attempt to talk them out of their feelings. Their feelings are valid. Just listen.
Many people learn to be self-compassionate in these final months. They stop blaming themselves for what they didn’t do or achieve.
Ware found that this act of treating yourself with kindness led to peace and emotional healing.
Another common regret was “I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends”.
If a loved one expresses this, encourage them to reminisce. Perhaps it’s not too late to reconnect with some of these people. Letters, phone calls, Skype, it’s all possible.
Loneliness is painful. We all need to feel bonded to other people, especially now. There are new friends and old friends.
Long-time friends are especially valuable as they can share your history and your jokes. Hang on to them.
Like Ware, other palliative care professionals report the overwhelming emotion that dying people express is regret.
One way to address this is to write down a set of goals before becoming too frail to act on them.
We have all learnt that life is uncertain. A list gets ideas out of your head and on to paper. A written list can reduce anxiety and remind you that you have agency in your life.
Lists are personal. They can vary from small actions to ambitious plans.
Prioritise your list, put it into action and review it regularly.
Kendall Morton is Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org