“I’ll never forget his thoughtfulness. He noticed the little things and fixed them right away, before you even knew it was a problem.”
Listening to people share memories at a funeral is a beautiful, healing experience. You realize just how many people’s lives you can touch with your own. It may never occur to you how much having your neighbor over for dinner that one summer affected his life for the better. Or how your countless hours sledding with your nephews brought them joyful, lifelong memories. However, especially because our interactions with others form us so much, many people do have relationship regrets near the end of their life. A palliative care nurse, Bonnie Ware, was with countless people at the end of their lives, and found several regrets many had in common— one of which was “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” A study from the University of Illinois shows that many of the life regrets that adults have are relationship-oriented. With all of that in mind, how can we take stock of our relationships today? Shouldn’t we devote some time and energy to improving our connections with people who are close to us?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself that might help you think about your daily interactions, and help stave off relationships regrets at the end of your life.
(1) Who is most important to me in my life right now?
List the people you are close to. Think: spouse, children, close family members, close friends. How do I treat them? Does more of your time and energy go to them than to other endeavors? If not, how can you prioritize them more? Think practical steps, such as: I could take my son out for breakfast once a week, just the two of us. Then put it on your calendar. Or, I should prioritize the projects my aunt has asked me to do when I visit next Sunday over what I want to do?
(2) Who do I interact with on a regular basis?
Think coworkers, neighbors, the baristas at Starbucks, the cashier at the grocery store I always end up with, etc. How do I treat them? Can I appreciate them more? Do I have positive interactions with them? How often do I thank them? Compliment them? Learn something about their lives?
(3) Who have I fallen out of touch with? What relationships should I work to repair? Are there people I need to forgive? Is there someone going through a rough time I should reach out to even if we haven’t talked in a while?
Maybe you don’t have any desire to repair certain relationship because of past hurt. Start by praying for the grace to want to forgive. Even if you never spend quality time with someone who has hurt you, at least having a sense of peace and closure (albeit oftentimes one-sided) to the situation is very beneficial.
If you need ideas for how to strengthen your relationships, think about how you have felt most loved in the past. Who in your life has done a good job of loving you? What would you say about them in appreciation at their funeral? How can you do that for others in your life?
At the end of the day, if you can prioritize forgiveness and generosity with your friends, family, and acquaintances, you’re moving in the right direction. Do a little self-reflection by evaluating your relationships every so often. And at the end of your life, it should be comforting to remember how you actively worked at loving others.