How to Live a Regret-Free Life

Bronnie Ware shares her insights as a palliative caregiver

Christina Pascucci
Nov 21, 2019 · 7 min read
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Photo by Irina Iriser on Unsplash

Palliative caregiver Bronnie Ware spent many years taking care of people from 30 to 80 years old who were all in their final moments of life. During that time, she had countless conversations reflecting on the biggest regrets of their lives — and what they would change, if they could change anything.

The one truth we all have in common is that we will die, yet we tend to avoid the conversation. But discussing death can teach us so many lessons about life. That’s why Bronnie’s book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying shot to international attention. She wants people to live more fully, in this moment, because now is all we have.

Bronnie Ware: We have created a society of denial. We subdue vulnerability and pretend everything is OK when everyone is suffering from the unrealistic expectation of perfection. We deny the state of our planet, the whole state of everything! So, of course we deny death, as it is the scariest thought of all. But it doesn’t have to be. Death is a guarantee and when you face that honestly you realize the sacredness of your time and find the courage to make loving, positive changes to your heart. Time is an undervalued but sacred resource. It cannot be replaced.

This subject came up time and again. People realized they had not brought enough consciousness and presence into the choices they made. Since your life is created by the decisions you make, this can result in dreams remaining unfulfilled and deep regret about not choosing differently. We are all individuals with unique yearnings and strengths. We are not meant to be alike but to encourage those unique strengths.

Everyone has to start somewhere. We are all beginners at one time or another. But the only way to go from being a beginner to an experienced person is by having a go. It may mean you have to be vulnerable. You may even be judged as a fool for a while. But your life is your own. You either give people power through their judgments of you or you give yourself power by ignoring them and honoring your own heart and hunches.

When you trust in life’s possibilities rather than human-made rules, there really are very few limitations.

It’s not up to any of us to hold anyone accountable. Life is the best teacher. No one knows what the other is here to learn or heal.

If you use their behavior as a teaching tool, and dissolve your ego and its need to be right or to make someone feel guilty, you actually set yourself free. It really does not matter who is right or wrong in the end. What matters is how many choices you made in kindness. The less energy wasted on unforgiveness, the more energy you create for joy.

I fell pregnant naturally and intentionally at 44, becoming a first-time mother at 45. We conceived the second month we tried. While many women are not blessed with such ease, many stop themselves even trying once they reach a certain age.

It is true that our bodies are healthier for pregnancy at a younger age. There is no denying that. My pregnancy triggered disease immediately following. Whether that would have happened anyway, years earlier, I cannot say. But my pregnancy was healthy and my baby was born very healthy. So while I don’t encourage leaving it too late, I do say to follow your heart on it. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t know the love I now do for my gorgeous little girl!

By not receiving, you close yourself to life’s blessings, which are so often to be delivered through others. It also creates unbalance and is a way of trying to control life. That is one of the worst things you can do: to shut yourself off to life’s amazing and generous creativity because you don’t have the courage to receive. To live a full life means to allow others in, to celebrate connection, and be open to the flow of giving and receiving.

Loving patience and trust that I would work it out. An ear when I needed one but no lecturing when I didn’t.

I came back from rock bottom one step at a time. There is often a crucial turning point — sometimes obvious, sometimes not — where a glimpse of hope, light or strength feels different to the dark heaviness depression delivers. You hold onto that and every little blessing and insight that comes, and step-by-step it loses its power. It takes commitment, though, and a massive trust in life that such a time is a blessing in disguise. It certainly was for me. It helped me let go of so much of what was holding me back.

Gentleness, acceptance, non-judgmental kindness. Addiction is usually created from a lack of wholesome connections. That’s not a reflection of people who love someone with addiction. It’s a reflection of the addict’s ability to receive that connection. Positive connection and shared wholesome experiences can help immensely at times.

Yes, absolutely. Staying in your comfort zone is avoiding reaching your full potential. Risks and contrast are both essential to show us what we’re really capable of. And while it can be terrifying sometimes, it also brings new levels of joy beyond it.

None. Not one. I’ve made a stack of mistakes and if I could go back and do it all again there are definitely things I would change. There are things I would have done differently. But I did the best I could as who I was at the time. So I look back to old parts of myself with compassion rather than judgment. This allows me to forgive my mistakes rather than give them the power of regret.

Having faced death and realized the sacredness of my time, I live a courageous life now, completely true to my heart regardless of how I am perceived by others or society. By bringing as much consciousness as possible to the decisions I make, I avoid regret because I am not living blindly. I am living with my eyes and heart wide open.

Our lessons are given to us from a place of love, to bring us into our best self. Courage is always rewarded. The greatest appreciation we can show for our life is to enjoy it as fully as possible.

Bronnie Ware is best known as the author of the international bestselling memoir, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, read by over a million people in 32 languages and with a movie in the pipeline. Bronnie is also an inspirational speaker. She lives in northern New South Wales, Australia, and is a passionate advocate for simplicity and leaving space to breathe.

Christina Pascucci has traveled to all seven continents in pursuit of the truth. The Emmy Award-winning journalist, licensed pilot, and humanitarian has worked as a reporter and anchor for KTLA, LA’s #1 news station, since 2011. She was nominated by the LA Press Club as journalist of the year.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

This originally appeared in Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.

Wake-Up Call

Katie Couric and friends talk career, culture, politics…

Christina Pascucci

Written by

Emmy Award-Winning Journalist. Adventurer. Licensed Pilot. Ambassador. LA County Commissioner. Advocate for children, the environment, & fighting homelessness.

Wake-Up Call

Katie Couric and friends talk career, culture, politics, wellness, love, and money

Christina Pascucci

Written by

Emmy Award-Winning Journalist. Adventurer. Licensed Pilot. Ambassador. LA County Commissioner. Advocate for children, the environment, & fighting homelessness.

Wake-Up Call

Katie Couric and friends talk career, culture, politics, wellness, love, and money

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