Bronnie Ware

Lessons of healing from Bronnie Ware

Of all the people in the world, you would think Bronnie Ware was the least likely to need another lesson on how to live every day to the full.

As the author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, she became an international success. Her list of the most common regrets she encountered while nursing the dying was published in newspapers and online around the world. Hundreds of bloggers latched onto it and it was seen by, quite literally, millions of people around the globe.

“Considering where I was in my life when I wrote this, I am very proud of it. I feel very blessed that the book flowed through me as it did.”

Her reflections on working with the dying had given her deep insights into life and had not only healed her own pain but had also inspired many others to rethink how they lived their lives.

Lesson learnt, right?

Not for Bronnie. Not long after her wildly successful blog, and consequent best-selling book, had brought her international success, life sent her another challenge. Ware began to suffer from the extreme pain and debilitation of rheumatoid arthritis, to the point where she was unable to put her bare feet on the ground for two years. But rather than accept the fate of a lifetime of pain and restrictions, Ware dug even deeper and found the blessings in her illness.

“Don’t get me wrong. There have been moments when I’ve thought, ‘Oh, come on. Enough already.’ But at the same time, I feel so rewarded and so blessed because of what has happened to me.”

Two blessings

Rewind three years and Bronnie Ware was right in the middle of the two greatest achievements of her life: creating an international bestselling, self-published book, and about to give birth to her first and only child at 45. While it would seem a blessing to have both successes in your life, the reality was that Ware felt overwhelmed with the global media attention her work was receiving, and was anxious about juggling it all with new motherhood.

“At about 11 o’clock the night before my daughter was born, I finally closed my computer and turned my phone off and said a really clear prayer. Well, actually, it was probably more of a demand than a prayer — I was so desperate for something to happen! I just said, ‘Enough. I can’t do this on my own any more. I need help now.’

“I felt quite sad as I’d worked so hard to get where I was and connect with such a large audience on my own, but I was also about to become a first-time mum at the age of 45, and I wanted to be a very present mum. But, in truth, I felt like I couldn’t be fully present with the two miraculous things that were unfolding in my life at that time.”

She gave birth to her daughter just before midday the very next day and, when she finally decided to turn her phone back on, there were again messages from media all over the world.

“But, as I turned my phone on, another call came through and, even though I don’t usually answer an unknown number, for whatever reason I decided to answer this one. And it was Leon [Nacson] from Hay House Australia, offering me an international publishing deal with Hay House.”

Prayer answered.

“I burst into tears, and then the baby started crying, and when Leon asked me how old she was, I cried, “I just had her this morning!”

Doing the work

This is the typical “overnight success” that took 14 years. Ware had not only self-published her wildly successful first book before Hay House made that fateful phone call, but she had also spent years reflecting on her own lessons from working so closely with the dying in palliative care.

Before she began working with the dying, Ware had spent time in various careers, included mixing cocktails on a tropical island, management in the banking sector, selling insurance and teaching song writing to prisoners. While song writing was, and still remains, a great passion, it wasn’t until she started writing about her own lessons learnt from being with people in their last moments of life that she found a way to comfortably share her message.

And heal her own life. Including the suicidal thoughts she’d had before turning her life around through her work as a carer.

Her latest book is Your Year for Change: 52 Reflections for Regret-Free Living (Hay House), written not only for the huge fan base from her first book but also for what Ware hopes is an additional audience who are time poor and unable to commit to a lot of reading, but are ready for change.

“I know how short life is. I’ve been very blessed with that gift."

“Considering where I was in my life when I wrote this, I am very proud of it. I feel very blessed that the book flowed through me as it did.” Especially in light of just how sick she has been.

“I really believe that it comes down to readiness and timing, and I have had that confirmed over and over again in my life. The dream is waiting to happen; it just comes down to readiness. I had a lot of fear associated with success and being a public figure in the early days, but I have this enormous drive to have my message heard. That is what has kept me going. And I am so much more comfortable in this medium — being an author — than I ever was as a singer-songwriter performing in nightclubs at 10 o’clock at night.”

Song writing still plays an important part in Ware’s life. She runs online courses, teaches workshops and still writes for herself. “Song writing is still a very healthy expression for me. I haven’t closed the door on that, but the truth is it’s a really hard slog for a songwriter in Australia.” Now, her biggest audience is her three-year-old daughter.

“I’m in such a joyous place in my life, truth be told, that I don’t have a lot of sad songs of my own to share.”

Light within the dark

That’s Ware’s typical take on things. She sees the lessons within the challenging times: the light within the dark.

“The last few years have really taught me gratitude. I was always an advocate for simple living, but it’s enhanced my determination and my ability for simple living. My health has improved in the past few months and I’ve put on some weight, which is really good, because I was really crook for a while there.

“But all of the lessons I have gone through with my health I am now incorporating in my being … Now, I make choices that are based on not necessarily my health restrictions but my wellbeing. I will say, ‘Well, I’m not going to do that, not because I can’t any more but because I don’t want to.’ So I’m very grateful to being ill.

“There were so many parts of my being that needed clearing that I didn’t know needed clearing. I thought I had got rid of it and worked through it already. And I realise now that I’m starting to move past a place of peace and into a place of joy.

“Yes, I still have physical restrictions through having rheumatoid arthritis, but I’m actually in such a joyous place — and I don’t think I could have done that without being so ill.”

The extent of Ware’s debilitation is hard to imagine. She tells of the months she had to watch her young daughter walk along the beach holding someone else’s hand, as she couldn’t physically walk with her.

“Only in the last month I have been able to sit on the ground again — I wasn’t able to sit on the ground or floor for over two years unless someone helped me down and up. Now I can get up if I have something nearby. So now, if I go to the beach with my daughter, I take a folding chair with me, as I know I can get myself down, but I need that chair to get myself back up again.”

Getting back up again is what Ware does best.

“Only in the last month I have been able to sit on the ground again — I wasn’t able to sit on the ground or floor for over two years unless someone helped me down and up."

After spending two years trying to heal solely through natural and metaphysical means, she eventually came to the realisation that she needed to surrender and ask for more help. She has since found a rheumatologist who supports her natural healing techniques with Western medicine. “And I’m doing much better.”

Ever positive, though, Ware is, of course, hopeful for remission one day.

“It is what it is, and you’ve got to get on with the cards you’ve been dealt. It’s not a failure to be sick. It’s not a failure to be unable to heal the way you think you’re going to heal. And now I make a lot more conscious decisions about my life that I wouldn’t have made before.

“A big lesson I’ve come to throughout all of this is that it’s OK to want an easy life and it’s OK to ask for an easy life. Just because you can do it hard doesn’t mean you have to. And I think that was what was happening a bit in my life: I was really strong and life kept throwing challenges at me and I just kept getting back up again. And then one day I thought to myself, ‘This is ridiculous. Just because you can do it tough doesn’t mean you have to.’”

It was this realisation that has led her to start medication for her illness and be unapologetic about her needs.

“I hope that after this it’s an easy chapter! I think it will be. I just think I needed to come to this point when I completely accepted that just because I can do it tough doesn’t mean I have to. We live in a society in which you are almost classified lazy if you say you want an easy life. Whereas I don’t think it should be about the physical work, but the internal work. If you’re willing to do that work, then the rest does become easy.”

Gratitude & simplicity

Ware now spends her days with her daughter on a property not far from where she grew up. She is currently working on her third book — “This one is all about gratitude” — and living a simple life.

“I’m so blessed to have had the contrast of death and birth in my life. When I see how alive we are when we’re born, and yet how dead a lot of adults are, even when they are still alive, it just makes me even more determined to live in a ridiculously fun and great way. I’m just shaking the shackles off and, the more I hang out with my daughter, the more ridiculous I am becoming — and I love it!

“I know how short life is. I’ve been very blessed with that gift. I know that whether you die at 30, 50, 70 or 90, when you realise your life is over, you have that moment of thinking, ‘Hooley dooley, it can’t be over! It was too short!’ And through being with the dying, being very ill and now being a mother to a very alive little toddler, I just want to live it. I just want to live every moment as wonderfully as I can. I’m into living much more than I’m into dying.”

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is a journalist with more than 15 years' experience, specialising in health, mindfulness and motherhood. She is also the best-selling author of Happy Mama: The Guide to Finding Yourself Again, and is the creator of the website Happy Mama.

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