Hospital Workers Talk About Regrets They’ve Heard From Dying Patients

I’d like to think that at the end of my life, I’ll have no regrets.

But I guess you never really know what that will be like until you reach the end of the road, right? I think that we can all agree that listening to people talk about regrets when they’re close to passing away has to be very hard…

Let’s take a look at these stories from folks on AskReddit.

1. Needed more time.

“I worked as an oncology nurse right out of nursing school. I was barely 21 years old.

Had a patient about my age who was dying of lung cancer. A few hours before he died I sat with him and he was telling me how much he wished that he would have had more time-to maybe fall in love, marry, have kids. He was so young.

He asked me to call his parents and he died shortly after they arrived. It was awful. His regrets were more about the life not lived. Many older patients had some interesting life stories and most wanted to tell them before they died.

Most were at peace with the life they lived. Many regretted working so much and not spending enough time with family.”

2. Cover up your skin!

“I was a hospice nurse. One of my elderly patients had skin cancer, a huge malignant melanoma on the side of his neck that was growing rapidly.

He had been a farmer all his life and never married. One night we were talking and I asked him if there was anything he wished he had done differently in his life, and he thought about it a minute and said he wished he had worn a hat when he was farming.

I wish he did too.”

3. I’m sorry I can’t help you.

“There was an old man. I’d play cards with him.

We’d talk about working on the farm we had. He was a nice guy. He figured out I was being physically abused. His health started declining and he couldn’t play cards or get out of bed. The last time I saw him.

He said he was sorry he wasn’t younger and that he couldn’t help me. Almost 25 yrs ago and I still remember him.”

4. Not yet.

“”Not yet! I can’t die yet. I still have so much growing to do. I want to see my children and grandchildren grow up…”

I am a physician trainee who has done a decent amount of palliative care. I have been privileged to hear many stories and be part of many deaths, but I still can’t explain why it is that certain lines remain with me and hit me so much harder.

The gentleman who told me the line above was in his late 60s-early 70s. It made me reflect on how I view patients in this age group – yes, much older than myself, but still with growing and living to do.”

5. A love story.

“I think of a woman in her 50s I met early on in my training.

She and her female partner had never married – partly due to laws, partly because it had never seemed important. When she was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer, they regretted never making that step.

I attended their small wedding in the hospital. She died a few days later.”

6. Heartbreaking.

“I had a patient who I was in the room with when her doctor explained she only had a few weeks to live. I knew her well, spent quite a bit of time talking to her up to the news.

The days that followed, she seemed to have accepted she was dying. She lived this beautiful, independent, and successful life, maybe not money successful, but just plain happy.

Anyways when I was helping her to the tub on day 10 since receiving the news, she just broke down crying and couldn’t stop crying about how much she wished she didn’t put her dog down b/c they could have died together.

Come to find out her dog was on his death bed too. I guess she put her dog down a few days before going into the hospital, she knew her life was over so she put him down first. She hated herself for it and for the fact she blew the opportunity for them to spend their last moments together. Really heartbreaking to watch, to hear that unfold.

She passed early in the morning two days later. I took a couple of mental health days off after she passed and spent some time looking up dogs to adopt and new jobs to apply for.”

7. Over a boy.

“I had a 17 year old girl that came in on a Tylenol overdose.

I normally don’t listen or really even get invested with patients because it’s usually the same faces on a loop but she kept trying to strike up a conversation and eventually I relented and she told me how stupid she was and it was over a boy and where she was going to go to college and what she wanted to do and basically her life story.

I left and she was stable in the ER. Next day I came in and asked if she went home or if she was in an inpatient unit. They told me she died a few hours after my shift.

It’s been like 5 years and thinking about it I start crying like a baby. I don’t cry. I think the last time I cried other than this was my grand pa passing but even that I can discuss without crying now.

Her death is the only thing that completely breaks me down.”

8. Different regrets.

“Top regret was not spending time with family and/or lost time due to a family feud.

Probably number two was wasting their life with their spouse (for various reasons) when they could have possibly been with someone they loved/met a soul mate.

Number three was usually not accomplishing a bucket list item such as living in a foreign country.”

9. This is horrible.

“27 year old male who tried to end his life, died from the injuries. I still remember it clearly, he told me his entire life story. I didn’t sleep for a few days after hearing it and sometimes it still haunts me to this day.

He was bullied in middle school straight until the end of high school. He had mild Aspergers and was quite intelligent but because of his looks and weird mannerisms he was picked on.

Then it got worse.

The girls would make him drink out of the toilet, the guys would chokehold him until he passed out or tied him up inside the gym and woke up alone after school ended, only to go home and get beaten by his parents for being late.

The girls would often make up fake accusations and he’d be suspended, only to be beaten up by parents once more. The guys would steal his clothes and toss them in the dumpster only for him to go crawling in it while naked.

The girls would replace his lunch with rotten food or feces, the guys would pelt him with rocks. It was just unf*cking believable.

He finished high school but just barely, dropped out of college and left home to go into the service industry but it only got worse for him there as he couldn’t do well with stress.

He had his own issues, said he was one of those incels and his only reason for living was so that others could abuse him to make themselves feel better. Told me he tried to end it because he was tired of it and also financially broken by then (this was around 2008 mind you).

He said he wish he stood up for himself from the start, perhaps things would have turned out differently for him.

He passed away a few days later while I was off shift. We all knew inside that he wasn’t going to make it from the start given his injuries, but I still listened to the story and it haunts me to this day.

I hope he’s at peace now.”

10. Didn’t get the surgery.

“I remember of this 40 year old patient that I had was dying from breast cancer that spread throughout her body. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years earlier and had a mastectomy.

The doctor recommended for her to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction due to high risk of recurrence of cancer. She said that she wanted to keep her breast (a real breast rather than an implant) incase she remarries and will be somewhat whole.

She regretted not getting the bilateral mastectomy. If she did, she would not gotten cancer in her remaining breast and dying at such a young age. The patient never ended up marrying after all.

A week later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I instantly told the doctor that I want a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. I also had an aggressive form of cancer.

My doctor kept pushing a lumpectomy which I probably would’ve gotten before I have heard how much she regretted her decision. I feel that she actually saved my life sharing and opening up with her regret of all time.”

11. A better father…

“He wished he had been a better father to his daughter.

He wished they had reconnected. His dementia prevented him from remembering they had reconnected years before and that she visited often.

I wish I could have made him aware that he had accomplished his last wish. But he died not really understanding that.”

12. What they didn’t get to do.

“I’m a hospice social worker, so I have the honor of getting to listen to peoples’ life stories, including favorite memories and regrets. Most regrets center around what they didn’t get to do, like never traveling to Italy when their family was originally from Naples.

Some regret not getting specific education – wanting to go to college but never doing it. Some regret their choice in partner, especially when alcohol/drug abuse was involved, or cheating. Many express a sadness that looks a lot like regret if they are estranged from family. And some have anticipatory grief from knowing they will miss a milestone, like the birth of a grandchild.

Some regret not taking better care of their health (people with COPD who regret ever having a cigarette). In general life is long and time smooths some of the rough edges, so people tend to focus on the good.”

13. More time.

“I work in a hospital. Whenever someone is at the end of their life, they always just want to be with their loved ones.

Any regrets I’ve heard is always family related. They wanted more time with the people they love. Most people are at peace with things though.

People also tend to wish they took their health seriously.”

14. Frank.

“He was one of my first patients as a nursing student, named Frank. He was 92.

After knowing him a few days, he disclosed to me his regret was outliving everyone he loved.. that he and his wife hadn’t had kids, and he was “all that was left” and that he wanted to see his wife again.

I wasn’t sure how to respond , so I just listened… and it made me realize how living so long isn’t great if everyone you love is gone.

He passed away later that week, and while I distinctly recall some of my classmates being upset, I felt relief for him. I knew he was where he wanted to be. I’ve had many patients since, but you tend to remember your first ones.”

Have you ever heard any last words from someone?

Patients? Friends? Loved ones?

Please share your stories with us in the comments.