- “Please forgive me”
- “I forgive you”
- “Thank you” and
- “I love you”.
I suggest these four things also matter in the dying process. In hospice care I offer family members an adapted version of these four things, inviting them to share with and hear back from their dying loved one the following phrases:
1. I love you
2. I thank you
3. I forgive you
4. I release you (Good-Bye)
These four small phrases exchanged during the dying process can make an incredible difference on how one feels after the death.
For each relationship, certain phrases will be more difficult than others. Often phrase #4 which calls for giving the dying person permission to die is the most difficult to share. Selfishly we don’t want to lose our loved one no matter how sick or weak or tired they are! For others, reconciliation and forgiveness is a struggle. However, when these four phrases can be exchanged and expressed, even if non-verbally, the grief process becomes less difficult. Grief gets complicated when the bereaved does not get an opportunity to say good-bye to the deceased or to reconcile with their loved one. When these four things that matter are not expressed before death there is “unfinished business” that can become a road block on one’s grief journey.
Fortunately there are ways to express these phrases even after our loved one has died. I had the fortunate opportunity to see Paul McCartney in concert. Before playing “Here Today”, a tribute to John Lennon, Paul told the audience that he wrote this song because he had wanted to tell John something but he decided to do it later and then John was shot and killed. Paul decided to say his message through song. In “Here Today”, Paul gets an opportunity to tell John that he loves him.
Not all of us are musicians, but there are other ways to express your message to your deceased loved one. You can always write a letter to the deceased letting them know you love them, you are grateful for your relationship, you forgive them for any wrongdoings and also ask for their forgiveness for any time you hurt them and to share how you miss them and wish you had a chance to say good-bye.
At Camp Erin Las Vegas, a grief camp for kids who have lost an important person in their lives, the campers write a confidential letter to the deceased including anything they did not get a chance to share before the death of their loved one. The campers burn these letters in a campfire that same evening and watch as the smoke carries their messages up to their loved one. This ritual is one of the most amazing healing experiences I have ever witnessed in grief work. Having the opportunity to unload and complete any unfinished business with the deceased was life changing for the bereaved children. This same exercise is also healing for adults. Articulating in words what is heavy in your heart can be a powerful healing tool.
Another way to express your message to the deceased is to have a “conversation” with them. Place an empty chair across from you and imagine your loved one sitting there listening attentively to you. Verbally express what is in your heart. This exercise might seem a bit strange at first but once you give your feelings a voice you will be surprised how helpful and healing this technique can be.
Role playing is another method to get a message to your loved one or to complete any unfinished business. In grief support, I play the role of the deceased and the bereaved have a chance to express to me what is in their hearts.
You have become aware by now that dying and living are so entwined. We hear that “how you live is how you die” or vice-verse “you die as you live.” As bereaved, we know better than anyone that each day with a loved one is a gift. I encourage you to share the four things that matter NOW with the special people in your life.