Five and Five

Recently came across an article that has been floating around the blogosphere for over a year.

The author, a former palliative care nurse, shares her observations of the most common five regrets she has heard from people at the end of
their lives.

[ Excerpts here; link to the complete article at the bottom.]

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying – Don’t wait until your health fails before living the life you want to live

by: Bronnie Ware,  February 1, 2012

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to 12 weeks of their lives.

Critically ill people share several common regrets on how they lived…

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. [Bold is the editor’s, not from the original] I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected: denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Yet every single patient found peace before departing. Every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret of all. …

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. This came from every male patient I nursed. …

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings..

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends…. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying….That is all that remains in the final weeks: love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits…

The line that stood up and shouted was Bronnie Ware’s comment:
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. “

How sad to hear that not till death stared them in the face
do many people examine their lives !

It called to mind something the Buddha taught; the Five Remembrances.

*     *     *      *     *     *     *      *     *     *     *      *    *

Sunday morning meditation started with the Buddha’s Five Remembrances, after which came a short Dharma talk on the Five Remembrances – contemplations which the Buddha found so helpful, he recommended them to everyone.


From the Upajjhatthana Sutta, the five remembrances are:

  1. I am sure to become old; I cannot avoid ageing.

  2. I am sure to become ill; I cannot avoid illness.

  3. I am sure to die; I cannot avoid death.

  4. I must be separated and parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.

  5. I am the owner of my actions, heir of my actions, actions are the womb (from which I have sprung), actions are my relations, actions are my protection. Whatever actions I do, good or bad, of these I shall become their heir.(1)

After practicing the five remembrances contemplation, aging, sickness, death etc. no longer come as a surprise.

The mind’s deceptive stories of invincibility, unlimited chances to act and other absurd beliefs are brushed aside through clearly seeing the facts of this fragile life immediately before us.

Felt more broadly, the aging, illness, suffering of change, death and inheritance of activities’ results transpiring in the lives of all beings brings much empathy and universal identification into the heart.

It also encourages the wise use of time and resources. And it may bring up the courage to act in fearful situations, given that we have less to lose than thoughts might suggest.

“People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. 

Agreeing conceptually when we are young, healthy and not threatened that “our time on Earth is short ” and forgetting it in the very next moment is powerless to shift lifelong attitudes before death draws near.

Why wait to draw close to death before facing the reality of our situation ?

The Buddha encouraged us to face mortality straightaway – replicating the advent of his own insights into the human condition.(2)

Frequent contemplation of the five remembrances brought much peace here,
while this body was still healthy and strong;
the attitudes derived thereof continue to inform and direct this life.


Bronnie Ware’s complete article may be found here: Her site is here:

The Upajjhatthana Sutta may be found here:

(1)  A five remembrance reference with Bodhipaksa’s commentary:


Photo of forest path:×300.jpg

Drawing of the Buddha teaching:

Related post:

About dominic724

A former seeker starts blogging.
This entry was posted in Buddha, Buddhist Practice, Death and Dying, Human Experience, Pali Canon and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Five and Five

  1. Susannah says:

    Thank you for an excellent article! I’m going to be sharing this on my Facebook page.

  2. Pingback: Five and Five | Vitality 50 plus - healthy body; active mind; giving back

  3. Thank you for helping folks think about what our culture most fears. It matters!

    Marcy Westerling

  4. In the Pāli canon there is a set of five remembrances that help us to recollect that change, loss, and death are not unusual events, but are woven into the very fabric of existence.

  5. A doctor once said that out of all the terminally ill patients he had spoken with throughout his career, not one had wished they had spent more time making money…every one of them wished they had spent more time with family and friends.

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