Musings on Mortality: There should be no regrets in dying time

You don't want to get to your dying time with regrets. The regrets are worse than the disease that is killing you in terms of letting go of life. I have witnessed this play out in those who are in their dying time. One man, in particular, was dealing with his demons by distracting himself. He spent the long hours of his dying time bed-bound, watching TV and listening to news on the radio. He was fixated on the dramas and traumas of our time instead of going inside and figuring out how to die when he had done some horrible things to others. He was filled with remorse and doubts as to whether anyone really loved him. This is no state to be in when you are dying. By now, he had lost the ability to speak due to the disease process. If there were apologies that he needed to make, it was too late. He had been abandoned by many he had slighted. Some of his own children could not be present in his dying time. It was quite late in the game to be fretting about his behaviors and actions toward others during his lifetime.

One's dying time is not the time to wish otherwise. Being consumed with remorse will only make the dying process harder for oneself and others. There are, after all, things in life that are too late. This is a grown-up understanding to have. So then, what can one do?

If you have done really nasty things to others in your lifetime and are at death's door, then just acknowledging this is a saving grace. It may have become impossible to apologize or set things straight, but at least you realize that you have not been perfect and perhaps, quite imperfect. This is some honest news about yourself that you can grapple with. Any honest news about oneself is something to work with.

I said to this dying man, "It would seem that you have done some pretty sh-tty things in your life." The word "sh-tty" perked him up. He was listening. People tend not to use expletives around the dying as if it is improper and even cruel. But, there was no other way of saying it because it was true. I had spent hours listening to his wife share horror stories from their marriage. This guy was so selfish that at some point he cashed in his pension without telling his wife or kids and spent all the money on himself. She was now struggling financially while taking care of him. It was a very sh-tty thing to do and it was just one of many. Now that I had gotten his attention, I said, "We have all done sh-tty things in our lives. You, perhaps, more than others." He responded with a sly and knowing smile. I continued, "And here you are, being taken care of so you must have not been all that bad. Taking care of you is not easy for her." He looked at his wife. "The only thing that can be done at this point is for you to forgive yourself. You're the only one who can. And, this is true for each of us."

Given his condition and how long he had been in that condition, it was inexplicable how he continued to stay alive. He had expressed, when he could speak, that he was not afraid to die. So what was holding him back? In the great scheme of things, each of us has to forgive ourselves for our wrong-doings. It is a personal responsibility that no one else can do for us. If we can't forgive ourselves, then we reach the end of our lives with a crushing inability to die.

Deborah Golden Alecson is a death, dying and bereavement educator and speaker who resides in Lenox. She is the author of three books that deal with her personal loss. Learn more at


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