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Life lessons from the Regrets of the Dying

A woman clasps a friend's hand to offer comfort and reassurance

Picture by Shelby Deeter via Unsplash

If you knew you were going to die, what would you regret? A terrifying near-death experience inspired podcaster Georgina Scull to ask people with very different perspectives about their own close encounters with death.

From a devoted mother whose son asked her to help release him from the unbearable suffering of a terminal disease, to a man facing an execution that’s been put on hold three times, Georgina’s spellbinding podcast series, Regrets of the Dying, explores the moving first-hand accounts of eight fascinating witnesses and their philosophies for living.

“You have to keep in mind that one day you will die, or you won’t make the most of the middle bit,” says Georgina, who was already mum to a small daughter when she suffered a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy.

“I could feel my whole body shutting down,” she remembers. “It’s so scary. People see you walking around and ‘repaired’, but you feel incredibly scared at the thought one minute you’re here and the next you could not be. The idea of my daughter growing up without me still gives me the shudders. People who have been seriously ill, if they are lucky and pull through, go through a similar thing. You’re okay, but you’ve still gone through a traumatic thing.

“Some people can let things go, but I don’t think I’m that kind of person. I still find it upsetting and cried so much making the series, but death really is a part of life.”

Gina Scull pictured with her daughterGeorgina pictured with her daughter ©Georgina Scull

Close encounters with death

Each episode of her Regrets of the Dying series features a different person’s story; some are terminally ill, some know they will live a shortened life, while others have had witnessed death.

Jo, who is living with early onset dementia, talks about her changing life since her diagnosis five years ago aged just 27. “I wish I perhaps hadn’t spent so much of my childhood worrying,” she says.

Heather Pratten assisted her 42-year old son Nigel’s suicide when Huntington’s Disease had brought him to the brink of an agonizingly slow death.

“I was really nervous before I met Heather,” said Georgina, “but I knew she wanted to talk about it. The emotion of what happened was still so incredibly raw. I can’t imagine being in that position and coming out with that positive attitude to life.

“We had a cry and a hug at the end of the interview and Heather said, ‘You can’t mope around. You need to get on with life.’”

Forty-eight-year-old Guardian journalist Simon Ricketts talks about having terminal cancer – and having no regrets, saying: “I don’t think there’s a secret to life. I think the secret to life is you’re lucky to have it. Life is an incredible thing.”

"I don't know how to die – does anybody?"

Mum of two Katie Scarbrough recounted her all-out battle with bowel cancer in a blog that rings out with her strength of character and vitality. “I don’t really know how to die, does anybody?” she wrote in her final blog, less than two weeks before her body succumbed to the disease that did not diminish her spirit.

With the blessing of Katie’s husband, Stuart, Georgina created a podcast from the blog, with actor Sarah Hope Guppy giving voice to the hopes and fears that Katie expressed in her own words to family, friends and followers. In her final diary, she regrets how cancer will leave her children without a mum to bring them up – “That’s supposed to be my job!!!! It makes me so angry.”

“Although Simon said he doesn’t have any, I think all the regrets are, weirdly, incredibly similar,” reflects Georgina.

“It’s about family and about love, each one is all about love, but sometimes those connections go wrong and that’s where the regret comes in.”

Katie and Stuart Scarborough pictured with their children Sam and SophieKatie and Stuart Scarbrough and their children Sam and Sophie ©Martin Davies

Life lessons

A close encounter with death can inspire people to seize the day, although Georgina admits that, five years on from her own near-death experience, it’s easy to become subsumed by the routines of daily life.

“Is the brink of death the best vantage point for life? Maybe,” she considers.

“It definitely puts life in focus, even silly little moments I might not have had. It takes up so much energy to live in the moment, but I think I’ve taken a few more chances, like doing this series. My biggest regret is probably a lack of confidence. When I started, people said, ‘I’m not sure who will listen’, yet maybe I wouldn’t have gone at it with such gusto.

“I hope people enjoy it and think about their life a bit more, appreciate it and be kinder to people whose lives they don’t understand,” she adds. “Some who’ve listened have written reviews and said the loveliest things.

“A lot of people in the programme said in life, you have to do the best you can at the time and just get on with it. My philosophy? Look up. Don’t spend all your time on the phone.”

Download and listen to Regrets of the Dying free on iTunes and Acast.

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