Confessions of the dying: End-of-life caregiver reveals regrets shared by patients

NEW ORLEANS — Do you have regrets about the way your life has unfolded? It turns out many people do, but they won’t tell anyone until their time is nearly up. Hadley Vlahos, a 30-year-old end-of-life caregiver from New Orleans, Louisiana, has spent the past eight years providing in-home care to patients. In a recent online video, she opened up about the profound regrets those in her care have shared from their deathbeds.

In her experience, many patients expressed regret for not prioritizing their personal desires and continually waiting for the “perfect time.” One patient poignantly said, “you can’t take it with you when you go,” highlighting the insignificance of material possessions in the end. Another patient advised, “stop waiting for that perfect time, start now.”

Other patients expressed remorse for not expressing their love for people more freely and spending too much time working instead of with their families. One patient confessed to Hadley, “I wish I had told people how much I loved them,” and another admitted, “I wish I had spent less time at work and more time with family.”

One patient’s advice resonated with Hadley: “Do things for yourself, not for others.”

Hadley recounted this wisdom from a woman who spent her life trying to meet others’ expectations. In the end, she wished she had pursued her own happiness instead of trying to impress others. These poignant reflections have deeply impacted Hadley’s own perspective on life. She applies these lessons by reaching out to old friends and expressing her appreciation for them, even if they don’t respond.

“I know if something happens, they will know how much they mean to me,” the caregiver says in her video.

Hadley’s role has also heightened her awareness of the fleeting nature of life, especially through her interactions with her own young children.

“Every single person can teach you something. They’ve lived these entire lives. They can teach you so much,” Vlahos explains.

Hadley Vlahos, 30, has worked as an at home end-of-life carer for eight years.
Hadley Vlahos, 30, has worked as an at home end-of-life carer for eight years. (Credit: SWNS)

‘Stop waiting for that perfect time, start now’

A profound memory of Hadley’s was when she left a patient’s luxurious mansion only to attend to another person in a crumbling house. Despite their vastly different financial situations, both were in the same predicament: facing the end of life. She remarked that it was a sobering reminder that material possessions cannot accompany us when we pass.

Hadley also reflected on patients who worked their entire lives, only to face illness in their 50s and 60s without ever experiencing retirement. These encounters prompted her to value the present as much as planning for the future, a lesson she shared with her husband.

In one instance, a patient who had always wanted to be a doctor expressed regret for not pursuing his dream because he thought it would take too long. From his perspective, he acknowledged that time passes anyway, inspiring Hadley’s own mantra: “Stop waiting for that perfect time, start now.”

She finds value in sharing these stories on social media, believing it helps disseminate the wisdom and experiences of her patients to a larger audience. According to Hadley, many older men she has cared for regretted not spending more time with their families. They often admitted to feeling estranged from their children due to their work commitments.

Despite the gravity of her work, Hadley doesn’t find it depressing. She views her role as enabling people to die on their terms, often witnessing happy moments amidst the sadness.

“It’s one thing to hear someone say ‘live your life to the fullest‘ but it’s another to have your mortality in your face every single day. Tomorrow is not promised,” the 30-year-old continues.

The regrets most frequently voiced by Hadley’s patients:

  1. “You can’t take it with when you go.”
  2. “Stop waiting for that perfect time, start now.”
  3. “Do things for yourself, not others.”
  4. “Spend less time at work and more time with family.”
  5. “Wish they would have told people how much they mean to them.”

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Hadley also pointed out the importance of listening to the wisdom and experiences of older generations, something she believes society often neglects.

“I think they feel forgotten about a lot,” the caregiver says. “They have very valuable stories and lessons. It doesn’t matter how different things were. We tend to ignore sometimes.”

Over the years, Hadley has learned how to ask questions that encourage her patients to open up, leading to enriching conversations. She finds these exchanges not only beneficial for her but also for the patients’ families. She often finds that these dialogues continue among the family even after she leaves, fostering deeper connections and understanding.

“I love my job – I think that it makes a big difference,” she says.

Hadley shares even more about this work in her new book, “The In-Between: Unforgettable Encounters During Life’s Final Moments.”

South West News Service writer Jake Meeus-Jones contributed to this report.

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  1. I guess I’m lucky in a way. I’m somewhere in the spectrum (autism) and personal friendships and interactions are not part of my life. That does sadden me, but I can’t do much about it. I do a lot of volunteer work helping other people, but I don’t know to really get close to anyone.

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