“I wish I would have made amends with my sister.”
“We always said we would get married, we just never got around to it.”
“I always said I would finish my degree when I had more time. Now time is running out.”
Regrets. While many try to live without them, they have a way of creeping up. But it does not have to be too late to rid your life of regret.
Marnie Squire, social worker with Hospice of Michigan, explains that it is often not until patients begin hospice care that they examine their life and want to right any wrongs.
“Working through regrets at the end of life can be an important part of dying a peaceful death,” Squire says. “Hospice is about more than just the physical pain; it is about the emotional pain, too. Patients often need to work through that before they are ready to let go.””
When Hospice of Michigan begins working with a new patient, the team asks if the patient has any regrets and when regrets are shared, HOM makes addressing them a priority. This often involves all members of the hospice team: the doctor, nurse, social worker, aide, chaplain and volunteers.
“We’ve planned a lot of weddings,” Squire recalls. “We have planned baptisms, held ceremonies to honor veterans and have been a peacemaker between family members, all in an attempt to fulfill last wishes, rid the patient of regret and provide the opportunity to die a peaceful death.” ”
Squire explains that a common regret is a rift with a family member or friend. When people die, they often want to feel like they are leaving the world without feelings of contempt.
“When people realize they are nearing the end-of-life, it is common to look at past disagreements differently and reconsider the decision to cut ties with a loved one,” Squire said. “We do our best to help with this. We talk with the patient and family and determine if it is appropriate to reach out the estranged family member or friend with a phone call.”
If the patient can no longer communicate, it might be as simple as holding the phone up to the patient’s ear and letting the person on the other line talk to them. If a call is not appropriate, we can help the patient write a letter that may or may not be sent. Sometimes just getting the words out can bring the patient peace of mind.”
HOM does everything in its power to bring a patient peace as the final days draw near. Unfortunately, some regrets are too complicated or are impossible to undo.
“When we cannot fix the problem, we turn our focus from problem solving to acceptance,” said Karen Monts, director of grief support services with Hospice of Michigan. “We encourage the patient to talk about their regrets and we listen. Sometimes just sharing can bring peace. We also help patients recognize when they have done everything they can and the situation is out of their control.””
HOM not only helps patients work through their regrets, but they also help grieving families cope with remorse over things they could have done differently for their deceased loved one.
“When a loved one dies, it is common to feel like you could have or should have done things better or differently,” Monts said. “We help the grieving understand that this is a normal reaction to death. When one feels they have lost control, the normal reaction is to think about how they could have managed the situation differently.”
“We encourage the bereaved to share their feelings with a counselor or someone close to them. We help them understand that they cannot go back and, instead, should focus on what they can do now. Sometimes the answer is writing a letter to the deceased or visiting the cemetery. Another option is to help loved ones the deceased left behind. They might be a shoulder for the spouse to cry on or help the child pay for college.””
Another regret of the bereaved is that they did not call hospice soon enough. Many hesitate before making the call to hospice, thinking it signals they are giving up hope. But that is not the case, as Monts and others on the Hospice of Michigan team know. What the family is doing is bringing in experienced resources who can help improve the quality of care their loved one is receiving at the end-of-life.
While regrets come in all shapes and sizes, Monts reminds people that as long as you are living, it is not too late.
“As hospice providers, we do all we can to help patients die without regrets but if you have regrets, hospice is not something to wait for,” Monts said. “Examine your life, look at what needs fixing and do your best to make it better now.””