Friday, 21 November 2014

Extreme Wisdom

I'm reading an interesting book by an Australian song writer and palliative care worker at the moment. Bronnie Ware has written an unusual reflection on her life as a creative artist and a carer of the dying. Called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying its subtitle gives a clue about the real thrust of the book - A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. In an individual blend of autobiography and narrative from the lives of her patients, Bronnie shows how living with those who are dying has brought unique insight and healing to her own life. The most common regrets expressed by the dying, she says, are to do with being not yourself, working too hard to the exclusion of other things and not staying in touch with friends and family. Quality of relationship and expression of whatever is most important to you lie at the heart of being able to accept your own death with equanimity. Simplicity, being present in the moment, and receiving as well as giving are three key values which she explores through many telling illustrations from her own life as well as through the experience of her patients. Often these patients shared their wisdom with her in the express hope that she would allow it to change her own life and also share it with others. To die knowing that you have passed something significant on, even just to one other person, can be very healing. 

I found this book particularly powerful because the author writes about many conversations from the final days of people's lives. It's always seemed to me that life is incomplete without the stories and perspectives of the dying - it is perhaps only at the very end of our lives, if we're given the grace of time to reflect, that we finally understand what is truly important and what is of little value. As the book shows, profound learning and real changes can occur even when there is little time left. 

Compassion is the golden key which unlocked much of the wisdom in this book. Displayed over time it melts the hardest hearts and allows people to change no matter what they have done or how harshly they judge themselves and others. 'Life is over so quickly…appreciate the time you have left by valuing all of the gifts in your life and that includes, especially, your own amazing self.'

The Sunday Times bills it as 'heart-rending' but I would say 'heart warming, life giving and full of hope.'

Published Hay House UK Ltd, London 2011
Bronnie Ware is a Singer, song writer and writer as well as a palliative care worker. To see more of her work visit

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