Making peace

Most of us are familiar with the notion of last rites – a dying person’s confessional and absolution to ensure their eternal peace. This rite, most commonly associated with Catholicism, is trans cultural and denominational. (In Judaism, it’s called vidui.)

While these practices focus on the well being of the dying, the peace these rituals can provide for those left to live and make sense of life without that person is equally important. (If the confessional were only about the dying, the words would not need be said aloud or witnessed, right?)

A leading figure in palliative care and hospice, Dr. Ira Byock, advocates that the living and the soon to depart engage in four sentences – just 11 words – to repair connection.

  • Here are those words:
    • Please forgive me.
    • I forgive you.
    • Thank you.
    • I love you.

What beautiful words.

While it would be wonderful to think that everyone would be able to express such words, it is idealistic to think so. Not every relationship can be wrapped up with a Hollywood ending or without a trained professional’s help. Nonetheless, I highly encourage you, if you have a loved one with whom you would like to gain closure, to do so. And, if you need to hire a chaplain or facilitator to make it happen, I highly encourage you to do that, as well.

My dad and I did not use the above words, but I will forever cherish the fact that we cleared and cleaned out our relationship before he died.

Alternative uses

I would like to suggest three alternative uses for these same four sentences.

  • Please forgive me.
  • I forgive you.
  • Thank you.
  • I love you.

 

Afterwards

I want you to think about a loved one who has died.
It can be anyone, but please pick one.
(The following exercise doesn’t work with “the idea of a person” as well as it works with an actual, specific person in mind.)

  • Please forgive me.
  • I forgive you.
  • Thank you.
  • I love you.

Think of someone who died recently or long ago.
Someone you love or loved. Someone with whom, despite their death, you would like to improve your relationship.

Note to my overly-rational friends:
This is going to go a little spiritual-woo-woo, like a guided meditation. If this is not your type of thing, I ask you to consider trying it. And if you just don’t like it, that’s cool; skip to the next section.

Please forgive me.
Imagine saying, if only in your mind, “Please forgive me.” Ask their forgiveness for whatever transgression you might have made. Sincerely beg for their forgiveness as though your peace of mind depended upon it.

I forgive you.
Imagine saying, if only in your mind, “I forgive you.” Release your loved one as best you can from their transgressions. Let go of it. It’s water under the bridge. And, again, your peace is dependent upon you being able to forgive.

Thank you.
Imagine saying, if only in your mind, “Thank you.” Realize the gifts you received from your loved one. Be thankful deep in your heart for those gifts. See if you can’t think of some treasure that makes you smile.

I love you.
Imagine saying, if only in your mind, “I love you.” Find some peace.

Ending relationships

My spiritual direction work with a woman recently ended.
We used the above 11 words as a ritual to conclude what we had done. What a beautiful way to conclude: with mutual forgiveness, gratitude, and love.

  • Please forgive me.
  • I forgive you.
  • Thank you.
  • I love you.

With God

Can you imagine saying these 11 words to (the) God (of your understanding)?

  • Please forgive me.
  • I forgive you.
  • Thank you.
  • I love you.

Note to my overly-rational friends:
You thought I was asking you to stretch when I asked you to talk to and make resolutions with dead people?
Now we are going to level up. I’ve made certain to keep it pluralistic and open for however the word Gee Oh Dee makes sense to you. But it still might be a little uncomfortable. I say go for it.

Take a moment to center yourself in your conceptualization of God, whatever it may be. (You don’t need a full philosophy-proof theology, either now or ever…just a rough notion of what it might mean to you when you use the word Gee Oh Dee.)

Think about (the) God (of your understanding) as we go through these 11 words.

Please forgive me.
These three words are pretty standard religious rite – asking for God’s forgiveness.
The “pro tip” I would offer is to search your heart and listen for the response after you ask.

Grace describes the feeling of divine forgiveness, and, rightfully, it is an overwhelming feeling. You are forgiven. Dive into the feeling of being beloved. Know that God isn’t holding anything over you, that God – like a good friend when you drop and break a plate – doesn’t hold a grudge.

I forgive you.
These three words are a little odd. Forgive God? Forgive God? Yes. I want to ask you to forgive God for things that did not happen as you wished they would. It wasn’t until I had a heart-to-heart with God about the death of my dear Shauna, telling God how angry I was, and hearing (for lack of a better word) God weeping, that I was able to get over the grudge that I had against God.

I ask you no, matter what your notion of God is, to forgive God.

If – like many – you believe that the word God is just a placeholder for our highest, noblest aspirations, you can still forgive God. You can release your insistence that reality isn’t exactly as you want it to be. Release the world, forgive it, and accept reality as it is.

Thank you.
These two words are also standard religious rite – thanking God. The virtue of gratitude is at the basis of all religious practice. When we have gratitude for all that we have, our lives are more spacious, open, loving. As Cicero wrote, “Gratitude to gratitude always gives birth.”

I love you.
Allow God to feel your love. (~rotb on 4 love languages)

Finally, I will not walk you through all of the steps; but, imagine (the) God (of your understanding) saying these 11 words to you.

In conclusion

Take these four sentences of 11 words and run with them. Find opportunities to express them – the world can only be blessed with the addition of more love and forgiveness.

  • And, finally, I have 11 words to say to you, .
    •  Please forgive me,
    •  I forgive you,
    • Thank you,
    • I love you,