It’s interesting that the information contained the book The Four Things That Matter Most, by Ira Byock, MD, is largely the same as the advice of Angela Morrow, RN, who wrote “The Five Tasks of Dying” for About.com.
Byock says that it’s important to ask for and offer forgiveness, express love, express gratitude and say good-bye, and these are the very “tasks” that Morrow says will allow us to find closure and feel at peace at the end of our lives.
We don’t have to wait until we are dying to do these things, however. We can do them now, and keep on doing them, as often as necessary.
Please forgive me. You don’t always have to tell people in person that you forgive them. Sometimes we need to forgive a person with whom we have lost contact, someone whose name we don’t even know, or someone who has passed away. Asking for forgiveness involves an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, an admission of error. We may not know why we made the mistake, but we at least realize that we did err, and we are heartily sorry. We accept responsibility for the hurt or injury someone else sustained. It doesn’t even matter whether the other person actually says he or she forgives us, because the important part is our acknowledgement of error and our acceptance of responsibility.
Having said that, I should also point out that it’s best if you can ask for forgiveness in person, rather than waiting until the other person is no longer around. It’s hard to face people who are hurting, knowing that we are the ones who caused the hurt. They say, “You can’t unring a bell,” and that’s true to some extent, but you can at least admit you were wrong and do whatever is necessary to make amends. If the person refuses to forgive you, at least you have done your part, and their refusal will only hurt them.
I forgive you. Again, it doesn’t matter if the person you forgive is physically present or not, although it is nice to be able to say it in person. Some things seem impossible to forgive, and sometimes we need time to allow our anger to cool off, and our hurt to subside before we are ready to forgive someone. It’s important to forgive people, even if they have not asked for forgiveness, because when we fail to forgive someone, when we harbor ill-will toward a person, what we are really doing is prolonging our relationship with that person. It’s as if we are tied to the person we are angry with by an invisible rope. For each person you are angry with, visualize a rope connecting you with that person. As you can imagine, you will start to get tangled up in all the ropes, and you will never be truly free, because your anger will come back again and again to haunt you and make you miserable.
The most important person to forgive is yourself. Go back and forgive your younger, less aware self for all the dumb things you have done. Be specific. Write down the things you want to forgive yourself for and cross them off, one by one. It may take a while, but it will be worth it. Just as you get tied to other people you are angry with, you also tie yourself to your former self, your past. Visualize this: when you are tied to your past, you cannot move forward, unobstructed, into the future.
Thank you. Get into the habit of thanking people for things – for the little things as well as the big things. Write thank-you notes. Put a post-it note on someone’s desk or leave a note of gratitude for your spouse on the bathroom mirror. Spend a few moments thanking God every day. Start a Gratitude Journal, in which you jot down what you are thankful for at the end of each day. An attitude of gratitude opens more doors than you may realize.
I love you. This should be a no-brainer, but you might be surprised at how many people don’t say this often enough. Once a day is not too often to say “I love you” to your spouse, children, parents and siblings.
The other day I noticed how many of my friends say this to me and to others. How many of your friends have said or written, “I love you”? You may protest that friends don’t need to say this because it’s too intimate, but my point is that expressing love for another person doesn’t have to be intimate. In fact, what you are expressing is “Divine Love,” a state of acceptance of other people just the way they are, an acknowledgement that they are children of God, and that they are important in your life.
Good bye. This is important, too, and often the hardest for us to do. These days people move into and out of our lives, often without much notice or fanfare. There are times, though, when it’s important to bring some closure to our relationships. One of those times is when we leave a relationship. It is so hurtful and demeaning to leave without saying good-bye. When you say good-bye, you release the other person fully, freeing them to move on with their life, just as you wish to move on with yours. In that sense, it is an example of treating the other person the way you wish to be treated. When you say good-bye, acknowledge the good times you had, and focus on releasing the other person from any vows or promises they have made to you. And wish them well.
Saying good-bye at the end of life is tough, because it is so final. That’s the illusion, anyway. Soul never dies, but the physical body the person inhabited is gone, as is the personality matrix from which they interacted with us. Saying good-bye allows us a chance to do all of the things I’ve discussed above: ask for an offer forgiveness, express gratitude to the person, and tell them how much we love them. It lets us tell them how much they mean to us, and how much we will miss them. It gives us a chance to release them from their obligations to us, and to send them into the future with love and blessings. 🙂