Best way to handle regrets—avoid them

A nurse who listened to the last wishes of dying patients for more than a decade says five regrets came up most often.

• I wish I’d been true to myself.
• I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
• I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
• I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
• I wish I’d let myself be happier.

Some of those regrets may surprise you, but think of your close friends.  Do you know someone who says she can’t speak her mind?  Has someone moved from across the country, leaving dear friends behind?  Have you stayed in a job you hated because you needed the income?

Last wishes have a mournful quality because it is too late to do much about them.  Even when we have time, speaking our minds is easier said than done.  Staying in touch with friends across a continent is not the same as dropping by for coffee when you live next door.

That hospice nurse might have heard different answers if she’d have asked, “What was the best thing that happened in your life?” As you read that, you may think instantly of children. If you are proud of them, that’s a powerful legacy.  Maybe you traveled the world, saw its many wonders.
Your happiest moments may not sound like much to others.   You might love your English garden, your career as a teacher, your grandma’s apple pie.  But if you have trouble answering, here’s some options.
Make a gift.  Send a check to an agency doing useful work in your community.  It might provide shelter to the homeless.  It might teach kids to read.  If you are not sure where to send your gift, pick an issue that concerns you.   Check the Internet.  Ask  friends.   Call an agency and ask for a tour.

Keep giving.  In 20 years, if someone asks what you regret most, you can say, “Not much. It’s been a great life.   And I tried to make sure others had one, too.”

Mike Robinson is Senior Vice President of Planned Giving for United Way of Pierce County.  Please consult a qualified estate planner before making a gift in your will.