I’ve been thinking a bit lately about what happens when we age. This has been prompted by my own father recently being admitted to a high care aged facility. He’s in his early 80’s, is a dialysis patient, has congestive heart failure and also suffers from gradual onset of dementia. I found myself reading Kathleen Noonan’s column in the Brisbane paper – The Courier Mail and I was very taken by some of the work of Bronnie Ware, who as a palliative care worker looked at themes from patients she cared for in their last 12 weeks of their lives. Kathleen Noonan captured some of these in her column. I think they are worth repeating here. Whilst they are reported as belonging to the aged and elderly, I think they also voice  for those of us who aren’t in the final phase of life what we might say if we were able. The common factor in each of them is the recognition of what Paul Tillich called “the courage to be”:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.We are social animals and thus are impacted by and impact on the pack.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. Males in particular missed their children’s growing up and partner’s companionship. This also underwrites some of the common social role expectations current in our western world which reward some behaviours at the expense of others.
  3. I wish I has the courage to express my feelings. People hold on to feelings in order for others to feel OK. Keep the peace at all costs. This is also part of the way we give away our power to others.
  4. I wish I’d stayed in touch with friends. The benefits of friendship became apparent when they stop calling. Loneliness is one of the most reported impacts of being in an aged care facility. It’s also true that if your haven’t maintained a social network, as you age more and more of your peers are probably dying around you.
  5. I wish I’d let myself be happier. The power of past habits tend to become a barrier for present and future happiness. It’s better the devil you know, even when it’s painful.


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