Ever heard of the five regrets of the dying?
Made popular by palliative care practitioner Bronnie Ware's article “Regrets Of The Dying” and later transformed into the newly published book Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, these five regrets most often uttered by those on their deathbed are as follows:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
While each of these regrets could be addressed in great detail, I'd like you to especially think today about the fourth regret: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Bronnie says:
“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.”
I recently revisited Bronnie's article and meditated upon how those words apply to my own life.
See, if you ask my parents, they'll both tell you, as they have told me and as I already know about myself, that I never liked to hang out with people too much. I was introverted and had a few very close friends, most often three to four at a time maximum, with who—aside from my two brothers—I spent the majority of my time. For the most part, I was never into being popular or hanging out with large crowds, and particularly disliked parties and large gatherings, during which I'd often duck away by myself or with just one to two others for more meaningful and connected time together.
But those few close friends were indeed very dear to me. I remember all their names: Gerad, Luke, Brian, Matt, Bill, and Grant, namely.
Yet oddly enough, I realized as I was reading about the five regrets of the dying, that it's been years—no, decades—since I've spoken so much as a word to these dear old friends.
I moved on.
They moved on.
We started careers and built families and became responsible adult males, sadly with pruned away friendships.
It seemed so easy to let yet another year go by without reaching out or checking in with these old friends, and slowly those old friends began to slip away. I began to forget what they talked like, what they looked like, what they smelled like, and what it felt like to be with them. I forgot their seven digit phone numbers I had memorized back before the days of smartphones, forgot which city they lived in or whether they'd recently moved and forgot how many kids they had and how old those kids were, culminating in a near total disconnect from the very souls I had surrounded myself with all during childhood.
Perhaps you have experienced the same.
If you're a man reading this, then it's very much more likely you have experienced this, as men seem to be less adept than women when it comes to forming new friends or staying in touch with old friends.
Why is this important? Why should you care? Why shouldn't you just let your current suite of co-workers, neighbors, family, and tennis or golf buddies replace all those old friends?
Here are just a few of the reasons I can think of:
- Old friends remind of us who we are at our core. As you learned in my article about how to find your purpose in life, the kind of things you enjoyed doing and were good at as a child are likely the same kind of things that will help you feed your soul's primary purpose now. There's nothing like reminiscing with old friends, who know you were and where you’re from, to maintain those memories from childhood and stay connected to who you once were, and likely still are. Memories fade, but what is remembered remains.
- Old friends tend to more readily accept you for who you are. The people you grew up with and celebrated childhood with tend to be far more understanding of you and your strengths and weaknesses than brand new folks who you've never met. They remember when you peed your pants on the roller coaster, when you got tipsy for the first time at a party, and when you got four straight Fs in math. Sharing those kinds of early mistakes and memories creates a near judgment-free zone that allows you to hang out with old friends without feeling the pressure to be anyone other than who you are.
- Old friends are fun to be with, even if you don't like to do the same things. The bonds from childhood go far beyond common interests. They are solid with firm foundations and deep like the roots of an old tree. So when you look up your high school bestie and they're running a vegetable oil-laden fast food chain empire while you're a naturopathic physician or holistic nutritionist, guess what? It seems so much easier to set those differences and strange career opposites aside and simply hang out and be friends again.
- Old friends allow for enjoyable, nostalgic remembrances. There's nothing like snorting wine out your nose at dinner and rolling with laughter until your gut hurts as you recall those times your successful executive CEO friend you've reconnected with farted embarrassingly on his first date, the time you pranked your teacher with hot sauce in ketchup, or how you both used to stand in front of the mirror and pop zits at it to bug your mother. In truth, these kinds of hilarious nostalgic memories serve to keep you not only connected to your childhood, but keep you young too.
- Old friends tend to stick with you through thick and thin. Sure, you may have forgotten to talk to them for the past ten years, and you may have let deep friendships pass away into what you thought was a complete non-existence, but when you reconnect, you'll find those old friends are ready to jump right back into friendship no matter who you are or what you've been through in life. Once again, there's just something about being children together that allows you to so much more easily connect and re-connect in adulthood, very similar to how you never really forget to ride a bike, even if you haven't touched it for a decade.
Pair a few of the reasons I've thought above with the writings on the hidden epidemic of loneliness I've expressed here, and it seems that renewing old friendships could be a very good idea indeed.
The Bible—the single book I rely upon most for deep wisdom and insight—has some wonderful examples of the importance of friendships too, beginning with Genesis 2, which reads: “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
Proverbs 17:17: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
Then, quite powerfully, there's John 15:13, which says: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
As I made an effort to reconnect to old friends over the past few weeks, I thought about not only the passages above, but also the following examples of firm and fine friendships in the Bible:
The story of David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel is an inspirational tale of two warrior-brothers who shared a close emotional bond of deep loyalty. 1 Samuel 18 describes this solid friendship: “As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” We can see in their relationship a staggering amount of love, loyalty, and emotional openness, which are not surprisingly three traits that modern psychologists have deemed necessary for friendships to thrive.
Then there's Moses and Aaron, two friends who worked together to accomplish great things to the glory of God. See, Moses had a great fear of public speaking. So God appointed Moses’s brother, Aaron, as his speaker and together they accomplished one of the most glorious rescues in all of history: the mass escape of the Israelites from Egypt—proving what two friends with close bonds can accomplish when they complement each other's strengths and weaknesses.
Elijah and Elisha were prophets of Israel so close to each other that when Elijah declared he was departing to another city, Elisha spoke up and said: “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Elijah was a mentor to Elisha, but he was not only a mentor, he was a friend so close that Elisha swore to God they would never be separated. It didn't matter that Elijah was perhaps older, more intimidating, or more experienced. Age and status become so much less important when someone is your true friend.
Fear not ladies: the friendships in the Bible are not only about men. For example, there's the story of Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth. Ruth was married to one of Naomi’s sons, and even when Naomi fell on tough times, Ruth pledged her life to the stricken and poor Naomi in Ruth 1:16-17, when she says: “Don’t urge me to leave you or turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.” Once again, we see that friends don't leave friends alone and that no matter how many trials there are to overcome in a friendship, unconditional love and self-sacrifice are common characteristics in lasting, solid friendships.
Finally, the ultimate example of friendship is something that you perhaps discovered as I explained to you when I described the ultimate Hero's Journey—the friendship between us lowly humans and the great king Christ Jesus. Remember John 15:13, quoted above?
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Guess who said that?
If you guessed “Jesus,” then you are correct.
We see this statement reflected perfectly in the eventual sacrifice of Jesus, who laid down His valuable and holy life, with absolutely no need to do so, in a demonstration of pure love and sacrifice to us. While I certainly know deep in my soul that our relationship with Jesus goes far beyond friendship, and that, he is in fact a king to worship and honor, he would not have uttered this statement had he not considered us to be his dear friends—friends who he was prophesying that he loved so much he would eventually die for.
So, based on all this, what did I do to reconnect to old friends?
It was quite simple, really. It was actually as simple to reconnect to all those old friends as it was to grow distant from them in the first place.
While social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn and search engines like Google and TruthFinder—all of which seem to be able to find just about anyone on the planet with a few swift taps of the finger—certainly have their failings and downsides, the convenient thing about them is that within just a couple minutes, you can usually hunt down most or all of those old friends and easily contact them.
And that's what I did.
“Hey Gerad, long time, no see man! How's the family?”
“Brian, dude, I was randomly thinking of you the other day. How's life man?”
“Bill – holy cow! It's been years and I had a dream the other night about us playing video games in your basement. What are you up to these days?”
You get the idea.
The result was quite meaningful and satisfactory. I called one friend and chatted for an hour, and another for twenty minutes. I met one at a coffee shop and shared a cup of coffee while we reminisced on old times. I visited another at his place of work and surprised him with an awkward handshake, then a firm, long-neglected hug.
I learned of marriages and divorces, new children and children starting college, prayer requests and needs, interesting hobbies and novel careers I never would've expected from that old friend, and much more. Each encounter resulted in a deep, satisfied smile on my face and smile in my soul that I'd reconnected with not just a human that I'd grown up with, but with a soul that will go on to live forever—a soul too precious to simply walk away from.
The entire process of reconnecting to old friends, was, in a word, amazing; and I now have a Google doc open on a tab in my browser with an ever-expanding list of local new friends who I can invite to dinner parties, backyard barbecues, frisbee golf, or the tennis court—along with a list of old, once-forsaken friends who I can occasionally hit up on Facebook messenger, my phone, or in-person when I happen to be near their city.
How about you? After reading this, do you plan on connecting to at least one old friend? How about maintaining that list of old friends, and adding in all your new friends too, so that anytime you have a free evening or open weekend, you can step out, make phone calls, send out invitations, arrange meet-ups, and foster relationships?
I would encourage you—no, challenge you—to do so, and to not delay. Do it today. Do it now. All it takes is a text, a Facebook message, or even scrolling through your ancient phone contacts to find that one number you haven't dialed in so many years, and a simple message such as “Hey INSERTNAMEHERE, it's been a really long time. I randomly thought of you today. How's life?”. Go ahead, do it. Use the comments section below to let me know how it goes, and leave any other thoughts and feedback there. Thanks for reading.