Nobody knows when it’s their time to go, and even if we did, we’ll probably never be ready for it whenever it does come. Maybe this is why so many people make utterly jaw-dropping deathbed confessions or last words—they hold it all in throughout their lives, and then it comes spilling out once they face the shock of their own mortality.
1. Cruel To Be Kind
One of my friends witnessed a horrific and fatal accident where a driver crashed his truck on the side of the road. My friend rushed to the driver’s aid after calling an ambulance, and he ended up spending this man’s last moments with him. As they were waiting for the ambulance, even hearing it, the man asked after his wife, where she was, and said that he wanted to see her.
My friend tried to comfort the man as best he could, saying she was on her way. The man passed almost as soon as the ambulance arrived. Sometime afterward, my friend looked up this man on a social network, and he found out the heartbreaking truth. He discovered that this man’s wife was already passed. So he had said to the man that his late wife was on her way.
2. Parents’ Princess
In my grandma’s last days, she requested that mum stay with her alone, and it was only then that she revealed the secret she’d been keeping for decades: She revealed that my mum wasn’t her biological kid. My grandma confessed that she had bought my mum from a child trafficking ring, which was common in China, because she had tried for many years and still could not get pregnant.
My mother cried a lot, not only for the unimaginable pain that her biological parents likely went through in losing a baby, but also for the fact that my grandparents have gone beyond to treat my mum as their little princess. They literally did treat my mum as their own. They were never abusive and only gave her the very best in life. They even willingly sent my mum to the US for a university education even though they aren’t rich by any means.
3. Can’t Fool Me
In my mom’s last 15-20 years, things went downhill emotionally and mentally for her and she had built a fictional version of her own history that she shared with neighbors, church friends, and co-workers. She wanted to control the image they all had of her. Things had been tense between us for years, but when she got sick, I helped her.
I spent an entire week living at the hospice facility in her room with her because I didn’t want her to be alone, and she had literally timed her calls to her sister, who hadn’t spoken to us in decades, and her attorney, hoping to avoid any big revelations until after she deceased so she could “win.” But some of the stuff she did to me was just cruel.
I didn’t find out about all of it before her demise, but I caught her egging her sister on to harass me through text messages when she could barely speak. I confronted her and cleared things up with her sister. Her co-workers came in and fawned over her and told me what a saint she was, and how wonderful and patient she was with the younger nurses.
The day after I had busted my mom for lying about ten different things, her boss came in and introduced herself and I told her I had heard a lot about her. She got this look on her face and I realized that my mom had professed to hating her so much because she wasn’t fooled.
4. Gather The Stars
My aunt had cancer. She knew she was going to die and she knew it would probably be in less than a week. She couldn’t eat and drinking was hard. She wanted to be sedated heavily and kept asleep permanently, essentially for the last few days because, “this whole dying thing sucks and I’ve had more than enough.” So fair enough, a doctor is called up, a plan is made and carried out.
The last thing my aunt said before going under for the rest of her life was, “Ah, I see the stars, they’re sweet and run carefree. Gather them up.” And that’s when she went under. She passed three days later. Nobody knows what she meant. But somehow, those last words fit her, so her husband got them tattooed on his chest, over his heart.
5. Let The Boat Sail
Before my grandma from my mom’s side passed, she had spent at least three weeks in a semi-conscious or more like a quasi dream state before finally dying. Her house was on a lake and her deathbed was in a room that overlooked it. During those weeks, she would constantly tell my mother that a boat was waiting for her and asked if it was all right if she could get on it.
This persisted, along with my grandmother having full conversations with relatives who were gone years before I was even born, until one day when my grandma asked my mother if it would be alright if she could leave on the boat again, to which my mother finally replied with, “It’s alright if you want to.” My grandma departed a couple hours later.
Eerie little tidbit, my grandmother’s watch, which was in another room at the time of her demise, stopped at the exact time of my grandmother’s passing. Apparently, it’s pretty common for weird stuff to happen around the time of passing for people in my family. When an uncle who I never met perished, a car of his that hadn’t worked for years suddenly turned on.
And when my grandma from my dad’s side expired, the doorbell at my parents’ gate rang but no one was standing there.
6. Sharing Is Caring
My father was recently diagnosed with cancer. After the initial surgery to remove tumors, he was very weak, in a lot of pain, and scared because for the first time in his life he wasn’t in control of what was happening to him. Let me preface the rest of this by saying he’s always been very selfish and only really does anything that either benefits him somehow or is convenient for him, including being a parent. We were raised by a single mother for most of our childhood, and then got an awesome step-dad from our middle-teens to current day.
My father has always told my brother and I that we aren’t getting any inheritance and that he’s going to spend it all before he dies. He’s been a bachelor for 30 years, so he has no spouse either. We’ve always said that it was fine, to not give him more power over us and it is his money so he should spend it how he chooses.
So my dad is in the hospital, thinking he’s going to die any day, so he calls my brother and I and says he’s realized that he doesn’t need to be in a pine box before giving us anything. He’s going to give us each a chunk of money and watch us enjoy it before he dies. Now, this money did come with strings—we had to tell him what we were going to use it for and he had to approve.
We both talked about doing some home improvement. This was met with approval. He never said how much we were going to get, but the ideas he was throwing out there were pretty high dollar, a new pool for my bro, new floors and windows for me, so our eyes were kind of popping. It was very generous, and in my case, potentially game-changing, as I really do need both and am in no position to afford either.
Fast forward two weeks and all the tests came back. He had a very treatable form of cancer that was caught early and he had an excellent prognosis. Both my brother and I flew to where he lives to care for him after he got out of the hospital and started chemo. He sat us down and said something to the effect of, “Now that I’m not dying, there are still some things I want to do, so I’m not giving you any money.”
Totally his prerogative and his money, and totally in keeping with his personality. But still, oof.
7. Ready To Go
My grandfather had a couple of inoperable embolisms that were going to kill him at some point, and doctors told him that he’d know it when the time came. One of them ruptured a few years later and he was taken off to the hospital where they confirmed there wasn’t anything they could do for him and it was only a matter of time.
He told them since he was dying anyway he was going to keep his pants on because hotel smocks suck and he was dying and they couldn’t make him. He passed out for a few hours and we all thought he was gone until he sat up, looked around, and said, “What am I still doing here?” He went back to sleep and passed shortly afterward.
The wife of my acquaintance got really sick. Almost all the doctors told them that she wouldn’t make it, so she finally revealed her darkest secret. She confessed that she had been cheating on him for about ten years with one close friend of his and that maybe their last child isn’t his but his friend’s. The lady survived and that poor stupid sucker kept his marriage as if nothing had happened.
9. In The Arms Of Their Lover
I had an old uncle who refused to die until his lifelong mistress came to see him. When he was in a new country he met an amazing woman, but when he went home to visit an arranged marriage was set for him and his father was ill so he ended up staying and having kids. He later immigrated back with his new family and found his old love had never moved on.
He never stopped loving her either. They got back together. Both women knew of each other but never met. His kids called her aunty and knew of her but never met her. On his deathbed he kept on fighting to live, his son asked him if he wanted to see aunty and his eyes grew as he tried to communicate yes. The son called aunty to let her know he was dying. She said she knew and was waiting in her car out in the parking lot. Aunty came to see him and within five minutes he passed in her arms.
10. She’s Here
My grandfather was dying of cancer. He was 90. Our entire family would sit with him in his own home, tending to him in shifts, making sure everyone had alone time with him and all made him feel needed and loved during his passing. Gramps would regularly point to a spot where no one was and say, “Hello, Hazel, they are all here again.” And then smile. Or he’d say, “Yes, dear, that’s Linda’s little girl.”
Hazel was his wife, my grandmother, who had deceased two decades prior. The chilling bit was that Grandpa would then turn to us and say, “Oh, I forget you can’t see her.”
11. Blessing In Disguise
My grandma confessed to my mom when she thought she was dying that she tried to coat hanger abort her. Obviously it was unsuccessful. My grandma was a religious woman, and decided that God wanted her to have this baby, and treated my mom like her favorite child. This messed my mom up for a while, and that wasn’t even the worst part. It got 10 times more awkward when my grandma surprisingly got better.
After Grandma expired for real, my mom eventually made peace with it. After she was born, Grandma never treated her like she was unwanted, so mom understood she was in a vulnerable place at the time.
12. Follow Your Heart
I used to be a nursing student, though I decided to drop out in my second year because it wasn’t where my heart was. During my placement at the city hospital, I got to talking to an older man—he must have been like 88 then. He was talking about how I look exotic and always complimented my long hair etc., etc. For what it’s worth, I was never threatened or put off by it.
One day, he told me I looked like the woman he wished he never let go. He said that he was completely happy about how his life turned out, loved his family and late wife, but he always thinks about this one woman he shouldn’t have let go by. He described this woman and his relationship with her as the perfect little blip in his life.
She was a petite Indian woman (I am a petite Pakistani woman) with long black hair and the most amazing smile. They met when he was 18 and she was 16. He was a jock at college and realized that her brother was taking the same classes as him, so he befriended the “dorky Indian guy” to get to his sister, who worked at the grocery store in town (that’s how they met).
And it worked! They dated for six months before she randomly broke it off. It turned out, she was just uncertain about where their relationship would go and could go as an interfaith and interracial couple. The old man wished he fought harder, because her brother married a Chinese woman and if it weren’t for his “jocky dumb attitude” he would have “gotten over” her decision to end things and fought harder for her to understand it would be all right.
Decades later, this petite, longhaired girl with an “amazing smile” (me) comes back into his life and he was flooded with the memories of the love of his life. He said the six months they were together were just the most deep and loving and peaceful months of his life. He should have been with her and she was the one who got away.
He said back then, you would fall in love in weeks and you loved hard, and that was simply that. Years later, I met a guy at work who ended up moving across the country for work. I remembered this old man and followed my heart. I never let my love get away, and I married him this summer. You should always at least try. Even if it doesn’t work out, go for it and find out so you never wonder.
13. I Think We’re Alone Now
Nearly all the patients I’ve had in ICU didn’t really have to ability to speak by the time they were my patient. I did have one lady who was going out relatively slowly, and I do remember her saying to me that she regretted how boring her life was and how she wasted it doing nothing but being a housewife. But there was a huge twist. She said this all in front of her adult kids while they sat there, mortified and hurt.
14. Pet The Squirrel
I’m an EMT. Most patients that I see in my ambulance are too sick to talk in these cases, but one sticks with me. He was a male in his mid-40s, and he called us for chest pain. Turns out, he was in the middle of a massive heart attack. The saddest part of all of it was that the patient had medical training, so he knew that it wasn’t good.
We were screaming to the hospital, just speeding down the road, and he looked me right in the eyes and goes, “I should have eaten that freaking cake.” When I asked what he meant, he told me, “Screw what others think. If it makes you happy do it, eat the cake, pet a squirrel, take a nap. Screw anyone else, it doesn’t matter.” He crashed shortly after we got to the ER and didn’t come back.
Now at least if I want to do something purely for the fun of it and my wife asks why I want to, all I have to say is, “I want to pet the squirrel.”
15. Lies For All These Years
For years my grandma complained about how my grandpa cooked eggs. My mom would also tell me the story about how she would hold the eggs my grandpa made in her mouth and spit them out at school. When we were younger my grandpa would make us eggs if we slept over at their house and I thought they were fine. My grandma would never eat them though.
It was funny because my grandpa didn’t care. My grandma got sick and was in and out of the hospital. She would tell the staff how much she didn’t like my grandpa’s cooking, especially the eggs. My aunt was the last person to visit her, I was supposed to see her that Friday. The night before her demise, my grandma admitted to actually liking my grandpa’s eggs.
16. God To The Rescue
When I was in Iraq, I was part of a small team of people who worked on a base. I spent a lot of time alone when my shift was over. In hindsight, being alone in a battle zone makes everything worse. I also had a huge 20+ man tent to myself, since I was kind of a part of one unit and not really part of another. Very frequently we would get rocket and mortar attacks on this base.
They would set up roof gutters in the dirt and drop explosives down with a timer, then leave the area. Hours later, the mortars would go off, usually in threes. They were surprisingly ineffective, but one unfortunate airman lost his hand and legs to an attack, so not completely useless. One night I was reading or playing video games in my tent when I heard the loudest mortar hit.
I remember that I felt the sound more than I heard it. Then there was a second one that was even closer, so close that I heard dirt spray onto my tent. This one did not shock me the same as the first, but it was definitely closer. This is the instant where my brain goes into overdrive. I am alone in a dark tent. I just heard two attacks and they were incredibly close.
I knew the third one was coming. So what do I do in the instant before the third one hits? I make my peace with God. I remember thinking, “If you are there, now is a good time to show up” and also bargaining, “If you save me, I’ll become a priest.” Well, for what seemed like an eternity, I waited. The third one never hit. I never became a priest, but that moment was absolutely life-changing.
I actually think I have serious PTSD from it, but not in a way that I would expect. Little things bother me, and I am human. I feel like I know God exists and I am at peace with the metaphysical side of life.
17. Amazing Grace
My great-grandmother passed in July at 1L05. She had really bad dementia, so she never knew who I was and barely remembered her own kids. She lived in a nursing home for the last fifteen years of her life and the last five of those years she became a clairvoyant. She would sing amazing grace when she could tell someone was about to die, it was the craziest thing, because the nurses at the nursing home said that it would happen literally every time.
The most chilling part about it is she sang it one day and no one croaked, but she passed out a couple of hours after singing and then expired later on that night.
18. Get A Room!
My mother worked as a nurse in the biggest hospital in Copenhagen. A man is terminally ill with cancer, has his wife, children and entire family next to him. He decides before he dies that he was gonna phone the girl he was cheating with on his wife, to meet up at the hospital when the entire family was there. My mother had to move the entire family into another room when she showed up, because of the massive shouting matches.
19. Chase The Rainbow
This cherished memory was when my grandmother from the other side of my family was in hospice and on her way out. She and I always used to joke about dying and how it was shocking that she was the last of my grandparents as she smoked, drank, and stayed up all hours of the night watching TV. She was my best friend for my whole life.
I really wish I would have known it was the last time that we would talk. She was in her hospital bed and looked at me as I held her hand and she said, “I’m ready now.” “You want the jello now grandma?” I asked her. She genuinely guffawed and said, “NO I’M READY!! I’m ready to go chase rainbows!” Then she relaxed and said she was tired and wanted a nap.
My son who was two at the time said, “I love you” as we left and she was the second person he ever said that to. I’m crying just thinking about it. She was such an awesome woman.
20. Too Close For Comfort
My uncle had been in a car accident. It was bad. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, he dropped a bombshell. He said “Tell my wife that Wendy is my daughter and I love her.” He expired a few minutes later because of internal bleeding. Wendy was the neighbors’ then 5-year-old child. That caused a huge storm, I can tell you.
21. Unexpressed Love
My grandfather and I were never close despite us all living together. We were both arrogant know-it-alls so our personalities clashed. We loved each other, just rarely had anything to say to each other. Most of the family was away on a trip with just me, my siblings, and grandma looking after him when his heart condition worsened. We took him to the hospital and I was told, “This is it.” And then they tell him the same.
He just nods silently and goes, “Yeah, I figured.” I spend every day by his side while studying for my exams and again we don’t talk much. My family booked the quickest flight back and arrived just a few days before he passed. Found out a week after his demise that when I was off writing an exam he told my mom he was insanely proud of me for keeping everything together and that I wasn’t as lazy or self-absorbed as he once thought.
I never got that hug and final understanding moment with him, but I’ll always love and remember him fondly. I’m glad we did understand each other, even if it wasn’t face-to-face.
22. God’s Plan
My gramma’s brother was in his final moments and he confessed to his wife that he was cheating her a lot, with three other women. He confessed because he was afraid of going through misery after his passing, but it looked like God had other plans for him. Unfortunately for him, and no one knows why, in a blink of an eye he got better and better, until one week later he was released by the doctors.
His wife’s brother was a lawyer, they issued him and got almost everything. He lived for seven more years without any money and all the women and their children abandoned him, so he perished alone at home.
23. Live Life To The Fullest
I had an accident and ended up with a concussion and emergency spinal surgery. Once I got to the hospital, the surgeon quickly went through all the things that could go wrong so I was aware. He said something like, “and with every surgery, there’s a very small chance of it going wrong” and all my brain heard was “you’re 100% gonna bleed out and die.”
I just had this very clear realization through the confusion of the concussion that I didn’t tell my brother that I loved him enough. So I called him and told him to move on and live his life to the fullest, and I’ll always be proud of him. Yeah, surgery went absolutely fine and when I came round, he just joked, “Even though you survived, I can still live my life to the fullest, right? It wasn’t an either/or situation?” I obviously told him he couldn’t.
24. A Dog’s Life
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, and spent quite a bit of time talking to her up to the news. In 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. What she told me made me nearly burst into tears on the spot. She talked about how much she wished she didn’t put her dog down, since they could have passed together. I guess she put her elderly 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.
25. Spirits Crushed
My best friend, his crush, and I were riding our bikes in the nearby forest. My best friend tripped on a rock and went flying into a tree headfirst. His crush at the time and I saw the accident and ran over to help. Luckily I had my cell phone with me to call help. When I was calling, my friend confessed to his crush that he likes her, but his crush didn’t feel the same way.
A helicopter came and airlifted him to a nearby hospital. His crush and he were neighbors so it was awkward for like a year and a half after that.
26. Guardian Angel
My mom did home health and hospice. My stepdad mistreated us both and my mom would take me to work with her to try and protect me. She didn’t want to leave him due to religious beliefs. That’s a different story. In any case, at the hospital, there was an old man, and I’d play cards with him. We’d talk about working on the farm he had, and he was a nice guy.
He figured out I was being physically harmed during some of these talks. Eventually, 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 protect myself against my stepfather. That was almost 25 years ago and I still remember him. Honestly, he still feels like my guardian angel.
27. Holding On
My cousin, my dad, and I visited my grandfather in the hospital right before he passed. When we were leaving, both my father and cousin gave him a hug and said their goodbyes. I did the same, but when I was about to move away he grabbed my hand and held me there for a few more seconds. I was always close to my great grandparents, closer than any of my siblings or cousins, but he never showed how much he loved me until that moment.
No words, just holding on one last time. His demise was the hardest I had to deal with, much because of that moment.
28. Say It Out Loud
I was stationed in Hawaii when that ballistic missile threat came through. Before we knew it was fake I called my wife and my parents, my wife worked on North Shore which was a bit from where we lived on post, so she was at work too far away to reach before the supposed missile would hit, and my parents lived on the East Coast.
Called my wife first, made sure she understood what was happening, and gave her the rundown on what to do immediately, what to do after it hits, etc., and to give a quick call to family. She called her parents and I called mine. Told my parents to do their best to not to panic, told them I loved them no matter what happened. I called my wife again, and tried to keep her as calm as possible.
I told her how much I loved her, told stories of good memories, all while I was sitting there drinking from the bottle knowing either I was about to die or about to go to battle with someone, so it was probably going to be a while either way. Turns out some idiot hit the wrong button. Huge sighs of relief, nervous laughter, some frustration, but it definitely helped my wife, my family’s, and my relationship after saying these things out loud that typically people don’t say.
29. Regrets, I’ve Had A Few
I was a new nurse, flying solo. We got a call for an incoming trauma; it was a woman in her 50s involved in a multi-car accident. We were all ready at the ambulance bay, unsure of the woman’s complete condition. She rolled in breathing on her own, but very labored and with asymmetrical chest expansion. She was profusely bleeding, had multiple deep lacerations, pupils blown, debris covering most of her, etc.
Her vitals were unstable, she was circling the drain, and we knew she was on the verge of coding. I was standing near her head, ready to assist in supporting her airway but also providing comfort and doing my best to calm her. The woman looked me directly in the eyes and in a hoarse, labored voice stated, “I was angry, I told her I was disappointed in her.”
She began to cry, her vitals plummeted. “I’m sorry,” was the last thing she said before her heart stopped. We coded her, intubated her, performed round after round of ACLS, only to eventually have to call time. I still see her face at times, her eyes filled with more emotional pain than physical. It took much longer and was so much harder to write this than I thought it would be…
30. Be Grateful For What You Have
I’m a paramedic, and I made a run on a woman in her 30s for shortness of breath. Her and her boyfriend had just moved into an apartment together. They were fighting over something trivial, which room to unpack first or something. He thought she was just being dramatic when she suffered the attack. We transported her, but she never made it.
She went from awake and talking to unresponsive and asystolic (no cardiac activity) in a matter of seconds. They were so caught up in a little argument that they never said goodbye. They never told each other they loved each other. So, she didn’t have any last words. And honestly, that’s even worse.
31. Burned Bridges
I work in long-term care, and a majority of my patients are men. A LOT of the men regret their marriage. Also, one patient had a psychotic breakdown in his 50s. He’s in his mid-70s and in hospice now, and says his entire family hasn’t talked to him since. All he knows is “words were said and I burned all my bridges.” He doesn’t even really know what happened.
32. Pay It Forward
I worked in a GI lab and we had a much older man, in his late 70s probably, maybe late 80s, in for gastrointestinal issues. While doing the procedure, we found cancer. But it was even worse than that. It was completely inoperable, just no chance of survival. Super bad, and I think he had refused to have a colonoscopy up until this point.
The doctor said it was so horrific that we couldn’t get even get past the cancer in our probe. He said the guy had maybe a few months. We finish up and I am at bedside with the patient and the doctor comes in to talk. Well, the family wouldn’t believe it. In fact, the guy wouldn’t even believe it. At that point, the doctor backed down…and omitted telling them how bad it really was.
I was pretty upset because the doctor basically lied to the family and gave them false hope because they wouldn’t stop arguing and he just didn’t care to tell them the truth. I still wonder often about what happened to him. If he spent his last days fighting it and wearing himself out or if he let himself enjoy his last few months. Colon cancer is horrific.
It looks exactly like the word cancer. It’s disgusting. It looks alien. Please, please, please people, get your colonoscopy when you are told. It’s not just you that you are saving, it’s your kids who will get their screenings earlier if they find something in you. But if you don’t, they’ll never know they are at risk. Also: Listen to and believe your doctors.
33. Young And In Love
I worked in long-term care for 12 years. I remember a married couple that shared a room; she had cancer and kidney failure. I was helping her eat lunch one day with her husband sitting there with us. She looked awful, but her husband looked at her, then at me, and said, “Have you ever seen a more beautiful woman?” I had to leave and go to the bathroom and cry.
I cried for days every time I thought of what he said. I thought I would never know what it was like to be loved like that. At the time, I had been divorced for years. I couldn’t even tell the story just now without tearing up. Side note: I was divorced for 23 years when I met Rod. We’ve been together for 11 years. I know that love now. It’s never too late.
34. Fake News
On his deathbed, while I was out of the room, my friend told my then-wife that I was having an affair with another woman. I wasn’t. She did not mention this until he was in the ground. He was always a jokester. So this was a very committed joke or it was the brain cancer talking, or it was that crazy guy just jerking my chain. I never will find out.
35. You Can’t Save Them All
I had a teenage girl in my psych ward because she had tried to kill herself by overdosing with pills. It was touch and go, but she was revived and admitted. When her parents could come in and see her once she was awake, their reunion was heart-wrenching. She was ugly crying about how sorry she was for taking the pills and how she didn’t want to end things.
Her parents were sobbing and telling her it was okay and they loved her. And then later they all went home and we didn’t see them again…And that’s the way I need to tell that story to prevent myself from breaking down and not being able to work there anymore. Because later, I read the Coroner’s Report for her passing a few years later, from a later suicide attempt that was successful.
They concluded that “no combination of interventions or specialists could have prevented” it. It felt like I got physically punched reading that. Still hurts.
36. You Never Forget Your First
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. It made me realize how living so long isn’t great if everyone you love is gone.
He passed 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.
37. A Soft Spot
I worked security in a hospital. In the ER, we had to sit with any 5150 patients so they wouldn’t escape. In California, that’s a threat to others, threat to self, and/or gravely disabled. It’s a legal hold that they can’t leave. I had I think a 17-year-old girl who 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.
Eventually, I relented and she told me how stupid she was. Apparently, it was over a boy and where she was going to go to college and what she wanted to do. Basically, her life story. Taking a break to cry for a second. I left and she was stable in the ER. The next day, I came in and asked if she went home or if she was in an inpatient unit. They told me she passed a few hours after my shift.
It’s been like five 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 grandpa passed, but even that I can discuss without crying now. Her story is the only thing that completely breaks me down.
38. Best Of Both Worlds
My mom and her dad both grew up believing and hearing stories from my great-grandmother about how she was the daughter of a Cherokee woman who ran off and joined the circus. It was a good tale. My great-grandmother taught all of us rain dances and other cultural things. All of her decor and style was Cherokee-inspired. She even physically looked Native American. My older cousin even got some college grant based on being 1/16th Native American.
On my great-grandmother’s deathbed, she tells my grandpa that she made all of it up. Turns out her mother was really just a woman of European descent who slept around with other men in her neighborhood and dumped my great-grandmother in an orphanage.
39. Always More To See
“Not yet! I can’t go 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 ends, 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. I also 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 passed a few days later.
40. The One That Got Away
I’ve been a nurse for 14 years, and the one thing that still hits me is a 14-year-old boy fighting cancer. We did the transplant but he eventually passed fighting the side effects of that transplant. Before that, I’d nursed him for almost a year and we had grown very close. The day he went away to his home country in the US, I told him I am his big momma and when he returned, we would be together seeing through many plans.
His dream was to be a doctor, so I told him I would quit my job and be his nurse the moment he becomes a doctor. On the night before he and his family left, my husband, who is a chef, cooked his favorite foods for the family and all the nurses. My husband taught my patient how to cook the recipes too, since my patient also loves to cook.
We had dinner together and I was crying my eyes out afterward. He was like a second son to me. His last words to me were, “I will make sure to meet you again.” The day I found out from his mother he had passed, I was devastated.
41. Born This Way
I’m an ex-ICU nurse. I had a patient in his 40s once pass from AIDS-related complications. At the end, he developed an acute lung infection, and the time that my colleagues and I looked after him was during the span while he was rapidly failing. We had to intubate, but he quickly became comatose and passed within a couple of days despite all the treatment.
He came from a religious family, but was estranged due to his homosexuality. He found religion again when he realized he didn’t have long to live, and it breaks my heart that he had convinced himself God was punishing him for being gay. Me and my colleagues tried our best, but his belief and his regret was a lifetime-deep, and our time with him was so short.
I will never forget being at his bedside, he’s gasping for air, with him telling me desperately between breaths how this is his punishment from God and he DESERVED it. He passed before we had a chance to even help him, I feel.
42. Love And Time
I was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma on my birthday in 2016, and I was told if my chemotherapy didn’t work, I had just weeks to live in 2017. Up until that point, I didn’t think I wasn’t going to beat it, even though by then I’d gone through 14 + rounds of different types and brutal chemotherapy. It seems stupid now, thinking back, but until the doctor uttered those words I hadn’t even done my will yet.
None of us were expecting it, and being honest I was in shock. I was 34 or 35, and this wasn’t how my story was meant to end. The doctor promised he would help as much as he could to transition me to palliative care and get the ball rolling. This bowled me over. I mean, one moment I’m preparing for another “ran some tests, here’s what we found, here’s what were going to do” doctor’s meeting, a meeting I have almost every day…the next I’m just…silent.
Anger was my first stage. I was bitter. “Why me? What did I ever do to deserve such a poor hand? Screw the world and its happy existence…” This quickly left. It was, honestly, one minute of pure “Why me?” After looking at everyone’s faces, however, this quickly left me. I simply watched everyone deal with the news around me. In the room was my favorite nurse, my mom, wife, and obviously the doctor.
I never saw my mom look so helpless. I could almost see the hope drain from her as she leaned into the wall, hoping for support. She was just told her baby was going to go and this time she couldn’t fix it. I could see the whirlwind inside her as she tried to not cry. The nurse who was there was only there to give me more chemotherapy. At this point in my care, I’d been in hospital for months.
I’d see her almost every day, and you bond. She didn’t take the news well (I heard later on). At the time, I was told she had a reaction to the chemotherapy she was administering. In reality, she broke down and had to leave work early. My darling wife, who I had put through so much, was clearly trying to hold it together…she was in the anger and bargaining stage, too.
This was the first time seeing my wife not taking “no” as an answer, and I didn’t have the energy or the motivation to calm her down. She was asking for second opinions, researching other hospitals, calling/emailing them, scanning reports, test results for her emails, etc. She just refused to accept it and went to work. I just sat there with what felt like billions of thoughts, watching it all go on around me.
When you’re told you’re going to die, eventually you get to acceptance. Once I accepted there was nothing more to do, all the little things in life that annoy, stress, or anger you go away. EVERYTHING is beautiful…and I noticed everything. My perspective had completely changed. My time was running out and I just wanted to be surrounded by love. That’s it.
My only regret was time. I didn’t do enough with it. I didn’t have more time to see my beautiful baby niece grow up. I wondered if she would take after her mother, my lovely sister, who never got to enjoy her pregnancy due to her brother getting cancer months before she was due to give birth. Why did I waste so much time being angry at my father?
We wasted so much time ignoring each other over petty family stuff. Why the heck didn’t I travel more? Why didn’t I take more photos of us when traveling? I had tons of travel pictures over the years, but hardly any of me and my wife or my family enjoying the holiday…just holiday-like pictures of museums, buildings, and food. Now I’m on heavy meds scrambling my brain for memories of my wife’s face when she saw the view from our hotel in Croatia.
Going through cancer robbed us of joy, and I just wanted to see the twinkle of happiness in the eyes of my loved ones one more time. Love and time, that’s it. When it boils down to it, that’s all that’s left. Love and time.
43. Cat Got Her Tongue
My ex’s grandma’s best friend was given around two weeks to live. The friend had kept her mouth shut for years about some friends and family. Once she heard she was dying, she let loose. She had also given away almost all of her possessions, including her beloved prize-winning cat. 10 days later she made a miraculous u-turn and lived for another two years.
She spent it estranged from the people she went off on, but remained close with those who she loved. She always said she wished she’d been honest sooner. I don’t know if she ever got the cat back though.
44. Big Announcement
My grandfather was in the hospital in a pretty nasty state. He barely could speak, but he made it clear to us he had something to say. He had my mother get him a piece of paper and a pen. Thinking he has some important words to leave us with in case he doesn’t have the chance later, my mom does just that. There’s silence in the room as he scribbles something onto the paper, with my mother and her two siblings waiting in anticipation.
My grandfather finishes, and with a big smile turns the paper for us to see. “I’ve got a girlfriend,” it read, as he pointed to Anna, a neighbor and friend of his. The goofball ended up pulling through and living several more years.
45. Double Life
Both of my grandparents served in WWII and were lucky enough to survive. While growing up we were told that they performed normal basic jobs during the war. As each one came closer to their demise, more truths came out. My grandfather on my mother’s side revealed he was more of a black ops seal type and not a cook as he previously stated. Grandfather on my dad’s side was in charge of the army’s computers for casualty tabulation.
46. The Eye Of The Beholder
My Grandpa was effectively my dad, though not biologically related to me at all. He expired of Leukemia in 2011, and my family and I essentially took days with him in the hospital during the time before his death. During my day with him, he was a bit off thanks to pain and medication. Right after one of his more disconnected episodes, he sits up in bed, swings his feet over to the floor, and then suddenly just stops.
From the mouth of a man who had never said anything about beauty, art, or the like come the words “Wow, look at the sky! It’s beautiful,” so I look. Looks to me like the sky from “The Seine at Argenteuil,” which is kinda pretty even to me, a complete neanderthal with respect to art. Then he continues, “I’m so proud of you and your mother.”
For me, the shocking part was the verbal recognition of something beautiful, but the latter portion had me pretty bent out of shape, in a good way and I needed to sit out the evening shift I had at the time. I miss that guy.
47. You Can’t Take It With You
As a medical student at Stanford, I got to see some “VIP” patients. One, in particular, was a middle-aged, high-ranking executive at an iconic company. This person was terminally ill and I was tasked with the initial interview. During my history-taking, they spoke about the ride up the corporate ladder. It all seemed worthwhile at the time—chasing wealth and prestige.
In the end, however, their regret was walking away from opportunities to build a family and invest in meaningful relationships. They poured their soul into the company, and yet not a single soul could spare the time to visit them in the hospital. I still remember them in the hospital bed, staring out the window with a blank expression. It haunted me for a while but helped me change my focus, especially in an area and field full of high-achievers.
48. Lesson Learnt
I remember the words that my grandfather said to my father, while he was in a hospital bed, “I’m sorry for being a terrible father to you, I kept on pushing my agenda to you and your son, so much that both of you resented me, I’m sorry for being overly strict to both of you. This condition that I am in, let this be karma for me and a lesson to the both of you, I love you.”
Only then a few weeks went by and his health was back to normal, and his TB was cured. We were really happy, and I asked him if the words he said a few weeks back were true, and he said it was, and he is now living in a home far from urban life and enjoying the rest of his days peacefully.
49. A Laughing Matter
The one I remember most is a sweet elderly lady who I’d been caring for. She’d been through so much in her life and spent so much of it worrying about everything. The night before she passed, we sat and talked for a while about anything and everything. I asked her if she could do it all again, would she do anything different? Straight away she told me she wished she had laughed more.
Such simple words, but they had a big impact on my life.
50. The Big Sleep
I’ve been in medicine for 13 years now. I was working in a progressive care unit taking care of a young guy who was about 22 at the time, when I was also 22. I thought he looked like one of my buddies from back home. He was jaundiced, in liver failure from alcoholism, and going downstairs for a CT scan. Total care. My age, expiring from alcoholism.
He looked at me in the eyes and said, “I’m tired of this.” There was an exhausted sincerity in his voice. I think I just nodded and said, “I know, man.” He coded on the CT scanner when he went down. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes, and his voice when he told me he was tired of it all. It was like he gave up. It was a resignation to his life, and all the regrets of drinking and destroying himself all in that brief last statement.
Those few words said a lot. I’ve been around a lot of terminally ill people. I’m a paramedic working full time in a busy ER the last few years. I’ve worked in oncology, a level 1 trauma ICU, a burn unit—but I just remember that kid for some reason, and those last words. I never had an issue with drinking, and thanks to him I don’t think I ever will.
51. Everybody’s Got A Story
A 27-year-old man tried to end his life and passed from his 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 brutally teased 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 tie him up inside the gym so he 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 his parents once more.
The guys would take 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, the guys would pelt him with rocks. It was just unbelievable. 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 the stress.
He had his own issues. He said he was one of those incels and his only reason for living was so that others could hurt him to make themselves feel better. He told me he tried to end it because he was tired of living and also financially broken by then. He said he wished he stood up for himself from the start, and perhaps things would have turned out differently for him.
He passed 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. I hope he’s at peace now.
52. Go For It
One that always stuck hard with me was my preceptor when I first became a nurse telling me she was going to travel the world as soon as she retired. She was about four years away at that point, and she had spent her whole life devoted to being the nice Church lady/nurse after her husband passed in their 20s. She just never put herself first.
My second year into nursing, she fainted in the parking lot on her way into work and soon after got diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. She recently passed and never had the strength to travel. I remember telling my introverted self at that point that I didn’t want to just work and pass away and have regrets. I wanted to live my life to the fullest.
Here I am now working as a travel nurse in Curacao and living a life I never dreamed of.
53. For God And Country
I’m a chaplain in hospitals and hospices. Doing everything we can to reconcile people before they pass is a large portion of my work. I have a lot of stories. Regrets naturally are expressed at end of life because people want to close their narratives and they are reflecting on everything they’ve lived. This doesn’t have to be scary or heartbreaking; it’s often natural and a way to end things with beauty.
However, the worst confessions and regrets I’ve heard came from veterans. Some never regret actions done in conflict and have a chain of command. This was the “I was following orders” mentality that can go all the way up to how they perceive God. One man was recruited to the CIA and asked them, “So I guess you’ll have me killing people.” He tells me they responded: “We call it ‘target acquisition’ now.”
The man never had a family because the CIA warned him to keep away from relational ties. He didn’t have any regrets as he was going about any of this. The one that sticks out to me the most, though, is a man who was an American soldier who became a German POW, and was eventually liberated by the Russians. He said the Russians freed them, but did little else and they were left to fend for themselves until US could extract them.
His biggest regret? That he took things from the corpses so he could have clothes and money to buy food. He bartered for food with valuables he retrieved from his late brothers in arms. He knows it was for survival, but he couldn’t come to forgive himself, which led to his second regret—he wished he died instead of his brother who was slain in action, also during WWII.
The important lesson isn’t to focus on the regrets, it’s to live a life now of love, acceptance, and mending bridges because you don’t know when it’ll be your time to tie loose ends.
54. He’s A Riot
I had a patient tell me that if he could go back for just one more day, he’d sleep with his wife even just one more time. I admit, I laughed when he said this, but he went on to tell me about their relationship and how beautiful she was. He was a sailor and admitted that he spent many nights with many different women around the world, but something about her made him settle down and get serious.
When they were first married, he’d come home from work and would find her naked in the kitchen and they would just go at it like rabbits. He told me to go home and surprise my husband by doing the same and to name our firstborn after him, ha. My last day working with him, he looked me in the eye and said: “Money is nothing, it’s all about the poon. Pardon my French, young lady.”
55. Family Reunion
When my grandmother was on her deathbed, she gave a shocking confession. She told her oldest son that he actually had an older sister somewhere back in their home country. She gave birth out of wedlock (not sure with my grandfather or not) and gave her away. My grandmother said she regretted not telling her kids and keeping a family relationship away from them.
My family ended up finding the girl a year or so after my grandmother passed. Some of my aunts and uncles even went to go visit her back home.
56. There But For The Grace Of God Go I
One that stuck with me: I was young, 21 maybe, and I had a nice old man in my ambulance. He had his hair slicked back and he was wearing a nice shirt. I honestly don’t remember what was wrong with him, or the other stuff that we talked about, but he stopped abruptly at one point and told me, almost kind of sternly: “Hey kid, stay out of the slammer, trust me.”
Now, I wasn’t really in danger of going behind bars the time, although I wasn’t that far out of danger either, but it stuck with me. Here was this guy who realized he could be a perfectly decent human being. He could be of value to people. But he could only do that if he wasn’t stuck rotting away in a cell. He must have wasted years of his good, precious, life in there and he didn’t want to see me do the same.
I realized I’d be an old man too someday, and I didn’t want to risk time just to make a few extra bucks as a starving college kid.
57. A Promise Is A Promise
I can tell you what I regret from my first experience with a patient who later passed. I’m a nurse, was working ICU at the time, and was freshly coming off orientation with about 1.5 years total nursing experience at the time, so not quite a rookie. Anyway, I had a patient one hour after my shift have severe difficulty breathing. After consulting the doctor, we decided to intubate and were getting ready to start the procedure.
The woman had widened panic in her eyes, and before we gave her a sedative for when she went out, I told her, “Don’t worry dear you can relax. We can do the breathing for you.” This seemed to calm her some, and then we sedated her and did the procedure. It started going south. Her pressure started dropping, even after we put her on a cocktail of medications. I sat in her room the entire time and did any charting I could at her bedside, since alarms would constantly be going off.
This went on until 2 pm, when the family came and decided to take her off the ventilator as she had a poor prognosis. She passed a little bit later. I will always regret telling her not to worry, that we would do the breathing for her. Because in the end, we couldn’t. I just regret that I couldn’t fulfill my promise to her. So my advice to any of the younger ones in health care, don’t make a promise you don’t know for certain you can keep.
58. Hand In Hand
It’s very hard to watch someone pass, but it’s also important to remember you’re doing it for them. I’ve always resented my older brother’s selfishness because his policy is essentially, “I don’t go visit people in the hospital because I don’t want to remember them that way.” But life isn’t just about YOU, now is it? It’s not just about what YOU want.
What about what the person in the hospital wants? My grandmother became very sick late last year and even when she became delirious, she would calm down when either my mom or I said, “It’s okay, we’re here…” She would just calm right down. Mom stayed in the hospital with her from the crack of dawn until 8 pm, and I took the night shift from 8 pm to 5 am, stayed all night so she was never alone.
When she got better and left the hospital, she told us that words couldn’t describe how much it meant to her that we did what we did; that we would never know just how much it meant to her. She said it saved her life. She said, “I would’ve been scared, but I wasn’t scared because every time I woke up, you were right there.” She said she knows she probably won’t be able to and won’t get the chance (due to her age), but she wishes more than anything that she could return the favor.
She said that if I were ever hospitalized, she would never leave my side. I tell you all this to say…I understand how hard it can be. I GET the temptation to be like my older brother and be like, “I don’t want to see them like this, it’s going to haunt me!” But when you understand how much it means to them, it’ll give you the strength to power through.
59. Don’t Go It Alone
I’ll never forget my time working as an ER EMT when I helped a woman get on a commode. I told her I’d give her some privacy and she grabbed my hand and murmured out a “please stay.” I asked her what was wrong and if she was okay. While she was sobbing, she was able to break out, “I’m so scared. They just told me I’m dying and don’t have a chance anymore.”
It broke my heart. I stayed and talked with her for a little and comforted her as best I could.
60. Together Again
I’ve worked in both long-term care and oncology/palliative care. The biggest lesson I learned from someone was to love your loved ones as long as you can and as hard as you can. This resident’s wife had passed years ago, but he still wrote her love letters every day. When he was about to pass, the environmental services team put a picture of her on his ceiling so he could look at her all day long.
I fed him his last meal (a few bites of soup), about six hours before he passed on my second last day of work there. That was a tough one. Other lessons: Stay single for as long as you can, travel as much as you can, and don’t get old.
61. When It’s Time, It’s Time
The passings with a bed full of family and an alert, fighting patient are the hard ones. The hardest one, emotionally, I’ve been graced to be a part of was a 50ish-year-old man with very bad pulmonary fibrosis. He had a “Do Not Intubate” order, so we weren’t supposed to ventilate him. It’s near impossible to ventilate with severe pulmonary fibrosis anyway, and the patient was well educated on his sickness and the severity of it.
The kids were all in their mid-20s, so around my age at the time. They were begging me and the doctor to do more, all while their dad basically suffocated without a ventilator. The dad was alert, showering his kids with love and calmness, and it was hard not to put myself in their shoes. Same age as me, and he was the same age as my dad.
This stuff sticks with you. Emotionally, that is a top three for me.
62. Can Nothing More Be Done?
In the experiences I have had, the patient is usually too preoccupied with his own pain or suffering to actually say a regret. However, there have been plenty of experiences where I’ve had a lot of regret and which sometimes still wake me up from sleep even though they are 10-year-old stories. The regrets are not related to a mistake I made, but rather about “maybe I could have done more.”
10 years back, I lost an 18-year-old female patient who had come into the hospital in a critical state. I was working in a very busy, overburdened hospital in a developing country. She was an only daughter and I still remember her parents. The father had told me something along the lines of, “She’s our only daughter, please do whatever is possible to save her.”
She had a sudden collapse and went. I’ve asked numerous colleagues and seniors since then about what more I could have done to save her, and they’ve all said that nothing more could have been done. But I still feel that I should have left everything and just sat with the patient the whole night, watching for any catastrophe to hit. It is my one huge regret of my life.
I blame myself even though I can’t fathom what more I could have done. It took me four years to tell this story to my wife. And this is probably only the third or fourth occasion in the last 10 years that I’m mentioning this. But it stays with me.
63. Bedside Manner
A huge learning experience came while I was a student and was treating a patient with advanced breast cancer. She was extremely cheerful and lit up the whole ward. I had a good connection with her as well. One day during the rounds, she pulled me aside and asked me a question that has haunted me since. She asked, “Do you think it will be cured?”
The doctors senior to me had already done her counseling, and as far as I knew she already knew her terminal prognosis. So I said the honest thing: “No, you cannot be cured.” She suddenly pulled back, smiled, and told me, “Never, ever say that to a patient, doctor. Never tell them it won’t be cured.” It was a learning experience for me. It’s not so much about not telling people the truth, but rather never taking hope from them.
Always give hope. Yes, tell them the chances and truth and whatever, but always give them hope. That statement has redefined how I talk to my patients.
64. Stale Fish
I had botulism from food-poisoning and as my mom was driving me to the hospital, the symptoms started kicking in big. I was fully convinced that I was not going to make it. I was around 13 at the time. Wasn’t really a confession, I just felt really bad that I’m going to die and I knew just how sad that would make my mom. I kept apologizing and saying it’s my fault that she will now have to be sad about my passing.
The pickled fish didn’t taste right, but I ate it anyway. The worst thing was that she was the one who gave it to me and kept pushing me to just eat it. But she doesn’t eat fish so she couldn’t have known it was long gone. I can’t even imagine what it would do to her if I actually passed that day. The guilt would probably kill her. Or my dad would. Not to mention botulism has a fairly high mortality rate, at 7.5%.
65. You’re Not Welcome Here
My mother was battling stage four cancer when I was 11 years old. While she was in hospice at home, her mother-in-law was standing by the bed. She woke up, heavily medicated, pointed at her, and said, “What are you doing here, I never liked you.”
66. The Prankster
As my mother lay in her hospice bed dying of cancer she beckoned me closer to her and said, “I’ve hidden the money…I’ve hidden the money in the…” she was having trouble speaking and her voice was cracking. She tried one last time “The money’s in the…” her eyes closed, her breath stopped and her head slumped to one side. A few seconds later she burst out laughing. She was pranking me.
My grandfather was on his deathbed and it was obvious he was nearing the end. He motioned my mother over to tell her something. She went over, leaned in close, expecting some declaration of his love for her or something deeply insightful. He said, “The good family silverware is hidden in the ventilation system about 15 feet out from the furnace.”
She looked at him like he was crazy. He said, “What!! We travel a lot and that’s where I hid it. That stuff’s expensive!”
68. Not To The Taste
Me and all of my cousins were gathered around my grandfather’s hospice bed as he lay dying. Each and every one of my cousins gave him a kiss and tried to talk to him/said they loved him, etc. But he wouldn’t respond to any of them, just started. Until I came up. I sat on the edge of his bed, holding his hand. Everyone was watching us. He looked at me and said, “I don’t like Mexican food.” And that was it.
69. At Least She’s Supportive
Just before my aunt passed, my older brother confessed to her that I was gay. She called me in and explained how our family has been through so much and that she was willing to totally accept me for who I am. I think that is great of her to be that open-minded. Except there was one huge problem: I’m not gay. She never believed me because my brother had “confessed” it.
70. Too Young To Go
I worked as an oncology nurse right out of nursing school. I was barely 21 years old. I had a patient about my age who had terminal lung cancer. A few hours before he passed, 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 passed shortly after they arrived.
It was awful. His regrets were more about the life not lived. Many older patients, meanwhile had some interesting life stories and most wanted to tell them before they passed. Most were at peace with the life they lived. Many regretted working so much and not spending enough time with family, but they also had other stories. He simply didn’t.
71. They Deserved It!
It was a few months before my grandmother passed when she told me that she peed on her mother-in-law’s grave, and said, “Son of a witch deserved it!” She was a little nutty, and I have a deep streak of her madness flowing through my veins.
72. Final Message
When I was fifteen, my dog had to be put down due to an inoperable heart tumor and internal bleeding. It was a sad moment, but as I went down to pet him one last time in that time of tranquility, he growled at me. Not anyone else in my family of six. Just me. That dog really growled at me. It’s like in his last moments, he was giving a final, “Screw you.”
About two years before his passing, my dog Tucker began to dislike me. A lot. Before this, he used to love me and I used to love him. But as I hit a growth spurt, and got half a foot taller than I was, he began to resent me more and more. This resulted in me having not much of a good relationship with him, and I guess this showed on his deathbed.
73. Left Unsaid
I was on the phone with my grandpa when he was in the hospital. He was dying from emphysema and COPD. He had been on oxygen for years, a small tube in his nose. I guess in the hospital they put an oxygen mask on him. We had a short conversation, and it was really hard to understand him. He repeated something and I just said, “Okay.” While I had no clue what he was saying.
To this day I feel like he was trying to tell me something. It bothers me a lot. I feel really bad about it.
74. Guardian Angel
My girlfriend was sitting with her father near his deathbed. He was incoherent the past few days as he was obviously getting close to dying. He sat up, looked at her, and pointed to the ceiling. “Denise, he said. That’s my guardian angel. I don’t need him anymore, I told him to watch over you. He laid back down in bed and passed.
75. We’ll Have Some Of What She’s Having
My grandma said some pretty funny stuff while she was on pain medication after brain surgery. My aunt jokingly asked her who her favorite child is and my grandma said and pointed at my mom without missing a beat. Then she told my aunt that the purse she gifted her for her birthday was hideous and that nobody needs that many zippers.
She made some fairly inappropriate remarks to the doctor as well, she was really cracking herself up. By the end of the first day, we’d all stopped asking her questions that we didn’t want to know the answer to and everyone was wishing they had a bit of whatever she was on to get through the rest of the week.
76. Tough Talks
This is difficult for me to talk about. I’m an ICU nurse and I’ve been present for a lot of people’s end of life. The reason it is so difficult to discuss is surprisingly simple: People come into ICU, they get put on a ventilator (which involves a tube in the trachea, through the vocal cords), and then they can’t speak. Depending on the medications they require, they aren’t commonly conscious, either.
So the communication happens before the ventilator, and either a) they didn’t have time to express ideas about regrets due to the urgency at the time or b) they didn’t think it was time to express those ideas…they thought there would be more life, more opportunities. The problem is that they didn’t tell any family members or loved ones, either, prior to coming in.
So I come on to a shift several days later. I don’t actually know this person. I haven’t heard their voice, or their ideas. What I have heard about my patient is from their visitors, the loved ones and the family. But what I’m doing with my day is trying to remind those same people that under the tubing, behind the equipment and the medication (that are the bread and butter of my job), under the blanket and on the bed is their loved one.
The person is the point. But we also tend the machines. Machines for breathing, machines for making the heart keep pace, machines helping to reduce the effort a tired heart needs to pump, machines to do the work of the failing kidney, machines to remove the need for the tiny spaces left in diseased lungs to push more gas than they can ever hope to move.
And we tend to use meds. Meds that assist the machines. Meds that push the body to do what it no longer can. And the patient moves from day to night and back to day. And the family wants us to do one more thing. And another. Because they want their person back. Sometimes we can do that. We can give you your person for more time together at life.
Sometimes we can’t. And if you’ve ever wanted to know about the regrets of terminal patients, these are the regrets many people can never express. The regret that they weren’t able to tell their loved ones and families they didn’t want all the things. Maybe some of the things, for a while. But not all of them, until the end. The regret that the loved ones and families want to help, but as the patient, they physically could not tell them no, don’t do that, it’s not helping.
So I guess the point is this: Don’t wait until you are there. Have a conversation with your significant others about what you want to happen if the worst happened. Don’t put it off as having bad thoughts or ideas or even that it’ll invoke some sort of fate that wasn’t otherwise going to happen. Discuss organ donation as if you really had the chance to do it.
Let your loved ones know what you think, and leave your actual end of life regrets for stuff like not going to Disneyland that time, or spending too much time driving to work.
77. Seeking Absolution
When I was in nursing school, there was a patient I had who was a Jewish man from Ukraine. He was sent to a concentration camp by the Germans where he had to take food from a child so that he and his family could survive. He was 15. It has haunted him his whole life, and as he was about to pass, he started to hallucinate that I was the boy and begged me for forgiveness.
I said, “I forgive you,” and he just went. There were a few people in the room, but I was the only Russian speaker and for whatever reason, that made it extra intense.
78. Motherly Love
I’m a nurse in the elderly ward. When a patient had recently passed, she kept calling for her son. Only there was one tragic problem. Her son had been there, but the first thing he asked me was “When can I get a death certificate?” I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Well, she isn’t gone yet, for starters, and that isn’t the top priority.” I explained how we’ve kept her comfortable and told him the staff was looking after her.
About five minutes after this conversation he left. I was fuming. Me and one of the doctors spent the day in the room with her, making sure someone was with her at all times even though she cried for her son. She passed as we were handing her over to the new shift. No word of a lie it was a two-minute changeover, and she went. It was like she knew she was alone and her son wasn’t there, so she passed alone. That breaks my heart.
79. Old Married Couple
I’ve been a nurse for 12 years in the ICU and PACU. The PACU is where you go after surgery to recover from anesthesia before going home or being moved to an inpatient room. What’s stuck with me most is how older married people act when they wake up. So many older women wake up from anesthesia after major surgery and ask me how their husband is doing, explain that he can’t drive well in the dark, and are worried that he didn’t eat.
They tell me to send them home so they can stop worrying about them. But so many older men wake up and cry for their wife, wanting her to be there with them. A few times, outright sobbing about how they’ve treated their wife in the past.
80. The Silver Lining
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 mistreatment 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. In general, though, life is long and time smoothes some of the rough edges, so people tend to focus on the good.
81. Mystery Man
While I was walking home from work, a truck hit me and I ended up in the hospital. I almost didn’t make it. Even though it wasn’t a hit and run, I didn’t know who the driver was until about a month later. Strangely, I didn’t think enough to ask. One day, it all became extremely clear. I was having dinner at my best friend’s place and his older brother came home and looked at me as though he’d seen a ghost.
82. False Alarm
I was backpacking with my brother and dad. Dad was having a rough go of it, so my brother, who was much fitter, would hike a few miles with me, drop his pack, run back for our dad, grab dad’s pack, and both would hike to me, who had hopefully made some progress with both our packs. It was supposed to last a week, but my dad was struggling the first day.
I pushed to at least spend a night on the trail as it was my dad’s dream to hike this trail, he had been preparing and reading books about it for a year. So, I was by myself and nearing the overnight shelter when the bushes started shaking. I was convinced I had come across a bear. I carefully headed back to where my brother’s pack was and wrote a note to my wife and kids, telling them I loved them and to “not be as stubborn as me.”
I pulled my driver’s license out of my pack and put it in my pants pocket, in case I got mauled, and started hiking to my dad and brother for help, since I didn’t have a cell signal. Before I made it to them, I crossed another hiker headed to the shelter. I had calmed down a bit by then and I figured if there was a bear, he would see it first, so I again started to go to the shelter.
Good thing, since I was able to get the tent set up, etc. My dad and brother rolled in at dusk. My brother says it was probably a deer that I came across, but there were signs all over the shelter about an aggressive bear in the area. Bear or deer, I have never felt such cold terror and a certainty that my life was in danger. I’ve read a lot since and found that my life was not in danger because black bears rarely attack, but my heart still pounds thinking about it.
The next day was mostly a downhill trail, so we all hiked out together. Such a disaster of a trip, but no one was hurt and we have some great stories.
83. Hindsight Is 20/20
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. He thought about it a minute and said he wished he had worn a hat when he was farming. I wish he did too.
84. Nature’s Calling
This is when my grandfather passed. We knew the time was near. Hours rather than days. He started telling a story in labored breaths. It was an analogy of how becoming a good person is like making a pie. We called everyone to his bed. It’s time we all thought. I won’t go into the details of the story but it ended, he closed his eyes. It was quiet. We were all watching his chest to see if he was still breathing.
We knew the time had come. We all held hands around his bed and said a prayer. He then whispered something. We couldn’t understand what he was trying to say and asked him to repeat himself. In a somewhat annoyed tone, he said, “I’ve got to go poop!” We laughed it off and a few of us assisted him with his needs. He passed early the next day. I think those may have been his last words.
85. You Are What You Eat
I work in a hospital delivering trays to patients. I’ve had multiple patients who have requested a final meal, only to be gone by the time I get it up to them. I haven’t heard their last words, but I think seeing what their last meal would have been says a lot on its own.
86. Dog Eat Dog
I worked in hospice. The top regret from patients 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 or met a soul mate. Number three was usually not accomplishing a bucket list item such as living in a foreign country.
We were not supposed to let people bring their pets in to say goodbye, since other people could have allergies or an untrained pet could poop somewhere. Still, I always told family members to smuggle in Fluffy in an oversized purse, Paris Hilton style. Large dogs were harder, but since they were literally emotional support animals at the time, I never told them to leave.
87. If I Could Turn Back Time
He wished he had been a better father to his daughter. He wished they had reconnected. But there was an even more tragic side to this confession. 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 passed not really understanding that.
88. Gone But Not Forgotten
I remember this 40-year-old patient who I had was perishing 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 the high risk of recurrence of cancer. She said that she wanted to keep her breast (a real breast rather than an implant) in case she remarries so she will be somewhat “whole.”
She very much regretted not getting the bilateral mastectomy. If she did, she would not have gotten cancer in her remaining breast and be facing mortality at such a young age. Also, the patient never ended up marrying after all. Then, 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 wouldn’t have gotten before I heard how much she regretted her decision. I feel that she actually saved my life sharing and opening up with her biggest regret of all time. I was 48 years old at the time of my diagnosis and have been cancer-free for 10 years now.
I think of that lady often. She was a mother of five. She was a true blessing to me. She was my last patient on my last shift prior to getting my results and starting chemo. If it wasn’t for her, I know I would not be here.
89. Secret Agent
My grandmother wrote us a letter to read at her memorial service where she admitted that she had been recruited by the CIA when she was a young woman in the 1950s. Now that was a surprise.
90. Let It Go
Some people just want you to let them go. I had a man with terminal cancer break down crying after his daughters left the room because they wanted him to “keep fighting” and he just wanted to rest and pass peacefully. Learn when to let go.
91. If Not Now, When?
This was a weird one for me and actually apropos for my current life. I still think about her. This happened maybe six or seven years ago. She was an older female in her 70s with a history of breast cancer. At that point, she was in the ICU for sepsis, I believe. I talked to her and she mentioned she was widowed. I gave my condolences and stated “That’s hard, I’m sorry about your loss. I imagine you miss him.” Her response shocked me.
To my surprise, she told me, “No, actually I don’t. I was relieved when he went. I was never happy with him. I didn’t leave him because that’s not what we did back in the day. So here I wasted many years with a man who didn’t treat me well, and now I have cancer.” Oof. Life lesson folks.
92. No Show
My wife’s grandmother, who raised her, believed that when you are about to die your deceased relatives show up to escort you to heaven. She was by all accounts a horrible person. On her deathbed her last words were, in a quiet terrified voice, “They’re not coming.”
93. Just Say No
I use to work in the respiratory ward of a hospital almost a decade ago. I was young and everything and occasionally took a puff of smoke from my friends when we were out drinking. Only a few times, to be honest. One of my terminal patients held my hand one day, she was out of breath and I was trying to just be there to calm her down and give some reassurance.
She told me to never, ever smoke. She regretted doing it when she was young, as now she is dying because of it. She hated it because of all the damage. She described it as drowning, and said that when you are being choked, that sensation that you are losing your breath is just absolutely terrifying and the worst. Her words stuck with me, and in her final days, we kept her as comfortable as we could as she struggled to breathe.
She passed not too long after. Never forgot her advice. Never took another puff.
94. Unlucky Larry
I had a co-worker named “Larry” who was in a job-site accident. Basically, he was underneath some scaffolding when a vehicle backed into it, and it collapsed on top of him. He was pinned down, couldn’t feel his legs, and was bleeding from a head wound. Larry was 100% convinced that this was the end. We were trying to pull the scaffold off and render first aid and all that, and he kept asking to use a phone to call his wife “Suzie.”
Our supervisor gave him a phone, and Larry called Suzie and confessed to having multiple affairs, taking money from Suzie’s parents, creeping on their neighbor’s teenage daughter, and partying with Suzie’s sister. Larry was crying, telling her he was so sorry, begging for forgiveness. And then the other shoe dropped. Turns out Larry was just pinned down by a couple of tubes and bracers that fell together just right, and it was tight enough to pinch a nerve and slow his circulation a bit.
He got six stitches on his head and some bruises, and that was the extent of his physical injuries. He survived and made a full recovery. However, he did lose his house, his pickup truck, custody of his kids, and half his paycheck to child support and alimony in the divorce. Plus, he got written up for not wearing a hard hat under scaffolding.