IF SYMPTOMS PERSIST
By DR. JOSE PUJALTE JR.
“Come lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,”
— Walt Whitman (1819-1892), American poet
Memories of President Lincoln. 14. (1912)
I suppose that it is one thing to die suddenly and violently in a super-typhoon or mall fire and another to die slowly, quietly in bed waiting for the inevitable. And I suppose too that some wisdom can be gleaned from those who have had little time left and knew it. Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative nurse, documented the words of the dying. These are patients who are terminally ill. She wanted to find out if given a chance again, what would the dying do differently? Dying people had at least five regrets that commonly stood out:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life expected of me.
This was recorded as the most common regret of all. And it isn’t hard to imagine that some of us were forced, cajoled, bribed into careers we didn’t plan going into. And we haven’t even begun talking about living a life we didn’t want, or loving people we shouldn’t have, and all the rest of the repercussions of just going along with other people’s wishes.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. Ware says: “This came from every male patient that I
nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.” Add to this our peculiar predicament of breadwinners who are based abroad for years, even decades. They may come home for the holidays but in the main, their children grow up without them. It is just a reality that working hard for most is working away from family.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Filipinos value SIRs (smooth inter-
personal relationships) to the point that all the smiles outside are actually frowns and grimaces inside. A high EQ (emotional quotient) must go hand in hand with a healthy self-respect. That self-respect sometimes leads to lashing out in righteous indignation at the cause of one’s troubles. That catharsis is clearing up toxic thoughts and feelings and must be understood as a natural process. Bottling up strong feelings can make you sick. Ware: “Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Ware: “There were many deep regrets
about not giving friendships the time and effort they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.” I will guess that “time and effort” here does not mean scrolling down your Facebook page every day but actually meeting and being with friends, the pre-Internet way.
I wish that that I had let myself be happier. This seems odd in an era of gratification
but it is likely that many forgot that happiness is a choice, not a by-product. This is the dying person who was always the provider, the rock which everyone in the family seems anchored to. And for some reason over time, this man or woman became more stoic than Epictetus – believing that “virtue is sufficient for happiness.” On his or her deathbed, the regret is forgetting to be happier. After all, it isn’t all social duty.
Our main insight, therefore, now knowing what dying people are regretting is to reflect deeply on what we can do today. Then perhaps, in our own lives, there will fewer regrets before that last dying gasp.
Tags: Dr. Jose Pujalte Jr.