Four years of my professional life were spent  working in hospice.  Director of Bereavement and Pastoral Care. Simply  put, four of the best years of my life. Creative, energizing, and a daily learning curve. A downer?

 Absolutely not! Quite the oppo-site. More hopeful, inspirational,  meaningful.

I listened to the mortals in the bed. Talked to them. Was always struck by how undramatic they  were. Not a lot of 11th hour confessions. Not a lot of sudden,  grasping forays into philosophy or religion. 

More, I was struck by the  simplicity of things. Stories. Memories. Just kinda wrapping things  up. Maybe talking sports, world  events, politics. I often had the feeling this is exactly the interaction I  would have had with this patient had I met them in their living room  a year before the terminal diagnosis.

 But, from time to time, the mortals in the bed would trust you with their regrets. Death shines a light unspeakably bright on what really matters. And, standing in the imminent  shadow of death, hospice patients often inventory the trea-sures they missed.

 A friend introduces me to the  work of Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, writer and singer/songwriter who spent part of her profession in hospice palliative care. Ware is the author of “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A life transformed by the dearly departed.”

The “top five” are no  surprise. Not when you say them out loud.

• I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

• I wish I didn’t work so hard.

 (Ware says this one has a par-ticular masculine twist. Men lament missing the childhoods of their children. Men lament time not spent with the beloved mate.)

• I wish I would have had the courage to express my feelings.

• I wish I would have stayed in touch with my friends.

• I wish I would have allowed  myself to be happier. (We humans tend to act as if there is  a “Happiness Authorization Board” whose permission we must be granted before we can be allowed to revel in the miracle of this existence.)

In my heart, I nod at this author whom I have never met. Yes, those are the great themes. I heard them, too. The dying teach us.

When you turn this discussion upside-down, it becomes even more stark and obvious. Yes, I listened to the mortals in the hospice beds. What they said, and what they didn’t say. 

The latter is  just as important.


• I should have vacuumed more often.

• I just forgave way too many people.

• As a child, I had too many competent, supportive adults in my life.

• I regret the way I neglected my Facebook page.

• I should have worried more. 

• I should have envied more.

• There never seemed to be enough time to be cynical.

• I was always too merciful and generous in my views of others.

• I should have spent more time at the office.

• I told my wife/husband “I love you” too often.

• I wish I would have been better at grudges.

• I was never clear about my racial prejudices.

 • I wish I would have made my- self sick with alcohol more often.

• My children, you wanna squeeze every drop of bitterness out of life.

• [name], would you please read my tweets at my funeral?

• I wish I would have made more time to be catty.

• I really regret the time I spent learning to play the piano.

• I’m having doubts whether I  was sufficiently antagonistic toward homosexuals during my life.

• Don’t you just hate the sound of


• I should have hoarded more. 

• I could have used about 12 more meaningless sexual experiences.

• I should have cursed at my children more.

• I should have hit my children more often.

• Can you sit shiva on SnapChat?

• I’ve made a photo album of all the people I hate. I want you to have it.

• I regret not taking more ‘selfies.’

• Does my butt look too big?

• I gave away too much money.

• I missed out on a lot of pornog- raphy.

• I’m still mad at [name] for not ‘friending’ me back.

(You may drop Steven Kalas a note at is a therapist, author and Episcopal priest. He is the author of the book “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing.”)