by Ken Rolheiser
Four last things and getting the best out of life

Two goats were foraging in the nuisance grounds. One chewed relentlessly on a book. The other asked, “How do you like it?” “Well,” said the first, “I liked the film better.”

Ira Byock’s book The Four Things that Matter gives us his main point in the opening sentence: “The four most important things you will ever say are: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. These are words people tend to utter on their deathbeds. However, as Byock urges, it is best to start saying them long before our loved ones gather round our deathbed. The saddest words we say? “It might have been!”

Do not take for granted that your children know you love them, or that brother or sister that you did not get along with knows that you have forgiven them. “Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. These four simple statements … carry the core wisdom of what people who are dying have taught me about what matters most in life,” Byock says.

We live with certain limitations imposed upon us by our family experiences as we grow up. We learn about relationships and how to interact with others from our parents and siblings. Byock’s book helps the reader move beyond the limitations our early environment might have taught us.

Byock assures us that in his twenty-five years as a hospice or palliative care worker he has lost count of the times family members or friends have expressed deep regret about the things they should have said before a loved one died.

There is another encounter and relationship we all experience as we grow in our life understanding and that is our spiritual essence. Our faith life and growth is subject to the same joy or regret as our social interactions. The saddest words we express could be about what might have been.

The words of Lewis Capaldi’s song “Before You Go” echo: “So, before you go /
Was there something I could've said”? “Would we be better off by now /
If I'd let my walls come down?”

In our relationship with God we need to express love and our regret for our failures before it’s too late. Humility is needed to let our walls of pride come down and to ask God’s pardon. Hopefully our training from childhood gave us the habit of contrition and the ability to ask pardon when we have wronged God or our neighbour.

In Capaldi’s opening verse he says: “I fell by the wayside, like everyone else.” How close to home that strikes. “But I was just kidding myself.” And the regret that follows is our universal regret, “'Cause now that they're gone / All I hear are the words that I needed to say.”

And so it is with our God. And so, before you go, say “I love you”, “I’m sorry”, “Thank you”, and “I forgive you.” Before it is too late!

The cost? A little humility. What makes it possible for us to be humble? “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” Anne Sexton.

Marcie Laycock tells us what we will hear if we listen hard: “…a child crying in a manger, …a voice calling us to know Him, to know His love for us, love that grants us one more day of life, filled with all its challenges and blessings.” 

(577 words)