The regrets of the dying: insights from CM Health's Palliative Care team

It wasn’t the stacks of cash they didn’t earn, the holiday homes they never lived in, or the lack of recognition because of failed sports careers.

It was more about regrets at not having spent more time with their families and losing contact with friends, for not letting long-held grudges go or for not living in the moment.

Palliative care nurse specialist Kate Dupper and her staff try to make their patients’ final days here at Middlemore Hospital as comfortable and happy as possible.

But she says that as people approach the twilight of their lives that there are common regrets. She lists some of them here.

I wish I’d told my family and loved ones how much I loved them

“This is a very common regret. With some people, sometimes it’s not having told their family they loved them or that they were proud of them or that they forgave them.”

“We have a lot of people saying things like “I wish I hadn’t taken things to heart so much or I wish I’d been more accepting of people”.

 “We’ve seen FIFOs, fly in fly outs, we call them. These are family members from overseas who want to take charge and want much more intervention – I think this is because of the regret they feel having not been here. Family who have been around their dying loved one are far more accepting of the situation. For the ones who haven’t been around I think they see this as their opportunity for being able to advocate better, but this is often at odds with where things are at in reality.”

“Then again there were two daughters who said they couldn’t be here because of work. They said they couldn’t get off work. As much as we suggested they come in to support their loved one they said they couldn’t because of work. We offered to do a letter – one of these people was a teacher – it was hard to believe that they wouldn’t have been allowed to stay with their loved one had they asked. So you do wonder if something else was there.”

I wish I’d lived a life where I was true to myself

“We’ve certainly had people who have wanted to have been true to themselves. We had a lady here who felt she had lived her whole life living by other peoples’ rules - she then got to the end of her life feeling she had not had a chance to truly live as herself.”

I wish I’d lived more for now than for the future

 “There was someone on the brink of retirement – they had focused their plans and hopes and knowledge on that. They were then wishing they hadn’t lived so much for the future. They said they were going to live on the Thames coast – but that’s not going to happen as they received a palliative diagnosis.”

Kate says despite regrets; some patients have not let their pending death stop them from fulfilling their dreams.

“We’ve had people here who really wanted to get married before they died. They were very emotional. We’ve had nurses making flowers out of crepe paper, nurses making wedding cakes and people bringing music in.”

“We have had pets in with people wanting to see their dogs before they pass. There was this man who had these ponies and he wanted to see them before he died. There was another man who wanted to see his land before he died so we organised an ambulance to take him.”

“As nurses we try to avoid regret. When people are in denial they might miss the opportunity to say things. We call families and urge them to come. I often say to families that if there’s anything they need to say even when their loved one can’t respond that they do so – we believe that they can hear and they can understand.”

Image: Palliaive care nurse, Kate Dupper. 

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