I forgive you.
Please forgive me.
I love you.
Dr. Ira Byock, one of the pioneers and proponents of palliative medicine (care for those with chronic life-threatening illness), spoke to a small group brought together by The Denver Hospice. Dr. Byock believes people whose lives reflect these 11 words are much more likely to live a meaning-filled life. Dr. Byock’s 11 words apply to how we live, how we die, how we say hello, and how we say goodbye.
I rode along for a morning with Kathleen Kegel, chaplain for The Denver Hospice, not long ago. In visiting with a woman who did not have long to live, Kathleen probed for unfinished business (think of Dr. Byock’s 11 words…) I could see it was a relief for this dying woman to reflect on what had been said and done and what needed to be said and done. I saw something similar when making hospice visits with Paulina Natema, nurse and coordinator with Selian Hospice in Tanzania. Paulina always began a visit to a terminally ill patient by probing for unfinished business. She explained to me that one cannot begin to help someone die by using the drugs and other tools of medicine until this person’s heart and soul are at peace. Just last week I observed Jason Faris as he opened the arrangements for a young man who died suddenly and violently. Jason’s warm, kind manner put the traumatized parents and other family members at ease. Jason invited all to tell their stories. He leaned forward, showing patience and interest. I thought of Kathleen and Paulina as I marveled at Jason’s good sense and natural ability to connect and earn trust.
I recently watched a Japanese movie with English subtitles, Departures. This touching and brilliant film follows the life of an “encoffiner,” a young man who prepares the deceased before cremation. His father left when he was a boy and then, many years later, dies without having made contact with his son. Now, the son is faced with “encoffining” his own father. There is so much to say and, now, his father has died. The son’s initial anger moves to tender interaction with his father’s body and a sense of peace with his past.
We encounter similar issues with family members after a death. Sometimes for the living, there are words that need to be said, things that need to be done, even if this is to the mortal remains of their loved one. As I saw the young Japanese “encoffiner” tenderly care for his father’s body, it occurred to me that this could be anyone in our Care Center: Terri Koelling, Sal Ramirez, John Glaspy, Diann Simon, Sara Dvorak, Marissa Casillas, Laleh Miller, Stacey Arndt, or Stephanie Kummet.
Rarely does a day or two pass that I don’t receive a note or a call from a family expressing appreciation for the care they received and for the important differences our co-workers made in their lives. To each of you in front-line and support roles, I think of your tenderness, your professionalism, your thoughtfulness in all the big and little things that help open the door to the living, the door they must walk through, the door that leads to expression of pain, acceptance, reconciliation, peace. I continue to be amazed for all the ways you express your compassion and your professionalism.
And that leads me to conclude with something I recently read in the casket of a young woman who died suddenly, a woman who was lovingly prepared, a wife, a daughter, a mother of 4 young boys. This family was able to say a genuine goodbye that reached into their hearts and souls, let out what needed to be released, let in what needed to be let in. Among other things in the casket, I saw this note:
I love you mom. Sorry, that is all I could say. I love you.
I hope you know what an important difference you make in people’s lives and how proud I am of you. I hope your lives are filled with meaning, love, forgiveness, thankfulness, and peace, all being reflections of what you make possible for others.