Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda?


To me, one of the worse feelings we can experience in life is regret.  How many times have you strolled down the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” path?  How many times have you either blamed yourself for a bad outcome or wished you would have done something but didn’t?

Regrets are negative, conscious reactions to our past actions and inactions.  This can lead to depression, remorse, and unhappiness.   Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse, recorded the top five most common regrets of the dying.  I’m not surprised by most of the things that made this list.  Here they are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others      expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

When people are on their deathbed, it’s only natural that they look back over their lives and review what might have been.  It is common for people to review the life they lived and see all the consequences of their actions and inactions. Far too often, this involves realizing that they lived their lives according to the expectations of others, not their own.

People spend so much time worrying about fitting into the status quo and worrying about what others say or do that they neglect to live their own life.

As a speaker and author, I have written about the afterlife and strive to help the bereaved by sharing the message that life doesn’t end and love never dies.  I can tell you after many years of research, no one ever says they wished they had spent more time working.  Instead we come to realize that as long as our basic needs were met, it really didn’t matter how much money we made, how big our house was or how many cars we owned.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t love a bigger house and more money.  We all want nice things in life.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But it’s important that we don’t get caught up in the material things.  In the bigger picture, none of that really matters.

The third regret, “I wish I had the courage to express my feelings,” really hits home with me.  I was always afraid to show my feelings.  Although I’ve gotten better and try to tell my loved ones how I feel as much as possible, there’s always that small part of me that’s afraid the other person won’t feel the same way.

We’ve all experienced this at one time or another.  But what’s worse:  keeping your feelings to yourself and never having to face rejection or showing how you feel and never having to wonder how the other person feels?  Personally, I prefer the latter.

Moving on, I’ve never met anyone who has never regretted not spending more time with friends or keeping in touch.  We’ve all been guilty of that.  People come into our lives for a reason. Unfortunately, however, many of us let these friendships slip away because we get so caught up in our own lives.

If you find yourself thinking of an old friend or missing a family member, reach out to them.  Your efforts may or may not be successful but at least you will know that you tried.  Hence, you will have erased this one regret from your mind.

As I said earlier, I’m not amazed by most of the things on Bronnie Ware’s list.  But I have to admit the last regret, “I wish I had let myself be happier,” came as a bit of surprise to me.  According to Ware, many of her dying patients realized at the end that happiness is a choice.  Happiness is a state of mind.  These patients wished they had sought out laughter more and just enjoyed life

Life presents us with all kinds of opportunities.  Whether we take advantage of these opportunities or reject them for one reason or another is our choice.  In fact, we are where we are in life at this very moment because of all the choices we’ve made in the past.

The good news we can change our life and erase some of those regrets simply by doing and not procrastinating. Some may not think so but we are always in control.

Recently, I attended Sunday mass and my parish was doing a sermon on the afterlife.  Fr. Michael delivered one of the most powerful and moving speeches I have ever heard.  He spoke about how we are all here for a reason.  And although there is an afterlife, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the most of every opportunity we are given here on earth.

He then went on to talk about how far too often people put things off and never do them.  People always say that they will get to it someday but Fr. Michael emphatically told the congregation, “The problem with someday is that it may rob you of today.”

When Fr.Michael completed his speech, the church exploded with applause as we all contemplated his profound words.   Yes, so very true.  The problem with putting things off until another day is that day may never come.

I’ve realized the hard way that life doesn’t always give us second chances.  If you have the chance to say I love you, say it.  If you have the opportunity to show someone just how much you care, show it.  If you’re sorry for something you did, express it.  And if you really want something, do everything you can to get it.

A neighbor sent me the following inspirational email called, “Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda:”

Too many people put off something that brings them joy just because they haven’t thought about it, don’t have it on their schedule, didn’t know it was coming or are too rigid to depart from their routine.

I got to thinking one day about all those people on the Titanic who passed up dessert at dinner that fateful night in an effort to cut back. From then on, I’ve tried to be a little more flexible.

How many women out there will eat at home because their husband didn’t suggest going out to dinner until after something had been thawed? Does the word ‘refrigeration’ mean nothing to you?

How often have your kids dropped in to talk and sat in silence while you watched ‘ Jeopardy ‘ on television?

I cannot count the times I called my sister and said, ‘How about going to lunch in a half hour?’ She would gas up and stammer, ‘I can’t. I have clothes on the line. My hair is dirty. I wish I had known yesterday, I had a late breakfast, it looks like rain’ and my personal favorite: ‘It’s Monday.’ She died a few days ago. We never did have that lunch together.

Because we cram so much into our lives, we tend to schedule our headaches. We live on a sparse diet of promises we make to ourselves when all the conditions are perfect!

We’ll go back and visit the grandparents when we get Steve toilet-trained. We’ll entertain when we replace the living-room carpet. We’ll go on a second honeymoon when we get two more kids out of college.

Life has a way of accelerating as we get older. The days get shorter, and the list of promises to ourselves gets longer. One morning, we awaken, and all we have to show for our lives is a litany of ‘I’m going to,’ ‘I plan on,’ and ‘Someday, when things are settled down a bit.’

When anyone calls my ‘seize the moment’ friend, she is open to adventure and available for trips. She keeps an open mind on new ideas. Her enthusiasm for life is contagious. You talk with her for five minutes, and you’re ready to trade your bad feet for a pair of Rollerblades and skip an elevator for a bungee cord.

My lips have not touched ice cream in 10 years. I love ice cream. It’s just that I might as well apply it directly to my stomach with a spatula and eliminate the digestive process. The other day, I stopped the car and bought a triple-decker. If my car had hit an iceberg on the way home, I would have died happy.

Now….go on and have a nice day. Do something you WANT to…not something on your SHOULD DO list. If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting? I had a friend from high school that I was always going to call and never did. The other day her name was in the obituaries so we never had that chat.

Have you ever watched kids playing on a merry go round or listened to the rain lapping on the ground? Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight or gazed at the sun into the fading night? Do you run through each day on the fly? When you ask, “How are you, do you hear the reply?

When the day is done, do you lie in your bed with the next hundred chores running through your head? Ever told your child, ‘We’ll do it tomorrow.’ and in your haste, not see his sorrow? Ever lost touch? Let a good friendship die? Just call to say, ‘Hi’?

When you worry and hurry through your day, it is like an unopened gift….Thrown away…. Life is not a race. Take it slower. Hear the music before the song is over.

I must admit here that I hardly ever save these forwarded emails.  But this one is a keeper.  Like so many others, I have let a good friendship slip away, I have spent so much time working that I’ve missed out on family time and I have missed many chances to say I love you.

How about you?  Who are you thinking about this holiday season?  Who do you wish you never lost touch with?  What do you keep putting off until someday?  Don’t let that someday rob you of today.


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