Patient Referral
Employee Referral
Make A Donation

Minimizing Regrets at End of Life

Regret: it’s one of the toughest emotions to live with, but when you’re approaching the end of life, it becomes all the more overwhelming. From missed opportunities to past decisions to losses, regret can follow us around like so much baggage. When we know our time is coming to an end, we tend to take stock of those regrets and try to make them right. If you or a loved one is feeling these emotions during end of life care in Santa Clara and elsewhere, we can help. Read on for more information on what regret is exactly, and some helpful tips to resolve these feelings.

What is Regret?

Regret is certainly a complex emotional process, a higher-order emotion that isn’t considered a cognitive emotion so much as an auxiliary emotion. This is because it almost always follows the activation of another emotion. And unlike fear or anger, it’s not really one of our core emotions — it’s more like a combination of two or more primary emotions that are activated in close proximity, or a feeling that results when one or more emotion is triggered in response to another event.

Present frustration regarding the loss of the love of your life, for example, may activate distress involving memories of paths you failed to take, which leads to regret. Or maybe you failed to seize a career opportunity early in life and as a result, became unfulfilled over the last few decades. Or maybe you said something to someone you love and couldn’t take it back, or turned your back on someone who needed you many years ago. Whatever the case may be, the present stimulus (a situation, event, image, or thought) can activate an emotion that evokes the memory that in turn triggers your feeling of regret, points out Psychology Today.

Regret shows us that cognitions, which involve memories and perceptions, transform our feelings into thoughts and these thoughts further trigger an emotion. Put another way, thoughts are motivated at first by an emotional response, and then those emotions are activated by the thoughts themselves. It’s interesting to note that all of our emotions, once they enter our consciousness, bring cognition with them as a travel companion. The worst part about regret for most people is the recognition of our failure to live up to our “ideal selves” — even more so than the mistakes or actions that led to the regret.

Due to the terrible shame of regret, we may feel, we are forced to look within ourselves and use those particular moments to motivate personal growth. As humans, we live with regret every day of our lives, either learning from our mistakes or pushing them down. But when faced with our own mortality, we are forced to face those regrets and attempt to make them right.

Common Regrets

There are all kinds of regrets, but there are some major, common ones that the dying experience. They include:

  • I wish I hadn’t worked so much at the expense of family and friendships: You may have gone years, decades even, struggling to balance meeting a deadline at work with sitting down to dinner with your family, says Forbes. You may have missed countless birthday parties, school events and plays to attend work conferences. This is one of the biggest regrets in life: I should have prioritized my family and friends over work.
  • I wish I had been happier: Life throws us many curveballs. From financial worries to relationship woes, there seems to always be something getting in the way of you feeling happy.
  • I wish I had expressed my feelings more: From a missed opportunity with the love of your life to keeping your feelings bottled up from your wife and kids, failing to express emotion is a big regret of the dying.
  • I wish I had lived the life I wanted and not the one people expected of me: Whether you stayed in a stifling marriage for the sake of the kids or you chose a career that you were unhappy with but one that your parents pushed you into, the path not taken is a major source of despair and regret for many.

Regret is a uniquely human emotion: it demonstrates that we care.

Tips to Resolving Regret

It can be tough to come to terms with regret, but here are ways you can try:

  • Stop “should-ing” yourself and rehashing the unchangeable past. Stop the self-loathing and focus on what you want: happiness, love, acceptance, and gratitude.
  • Accept that you are fallible and make mistakes. Despite that, you are still loving and lovable.
  • Practice deep breathing and positive imagery. Take time to regroup and re-build your inner core.
  • Reach out to past friends and family. Talk about what drove you apart. Own your part in it.
  • Apologize to those you have wronged. Ask for forgiveness. If you can’t get it, feel good knowing you tried.
  • Start a journal, writing about three things each day that you appreciate and value.
  • Pause and take stock of your life. Focus on the positive attributes you have brought to the table.
  • Above all, genuinely apologize to yourself and forgive yourself, as regret and resentment will keep you a prisoner of negative thoughts.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We are here to help you though. Contact us to learn about our hospice and bereavement services.