Saying Goodbye, Part 2
Preparing ourselves for our deaths is the most important task of life, at least when we believe that death is not the total dissolution of our identity but the way to its fullest revelation…Jesus speaks about his death as being “lifted up.” Henri Nouwen
During the Sending Ceremony for the 2017 cohort of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School, founding faculty member Fr. Richard Rohr shared the five things we should say to those we love before they (or we) die. They are: Please forgive me; I forgive you; Thank you; I love you; and Goodbye. In a perfect world these things would not need to be said. We would maintain our relationships in ways leaving nothing unresolved to forgive, nothing we had not already expressed thanks for, and no question about our love for the other. In the real world, however, whenever we are in close quarters with another, annoyances that are otherwise inconsequential become kindling for raging fires of indignation. Further, it is typically those we love the most with whom we share close quarters. Thus, the five things to say before parting:
Please forgive me. The need for forgiveness before we say goodbye, whenever possible, cannot be overstated, both for the dying person and for those left behind. This statement might go something like this: “If there is anything I have done or said that remains as a barrier between us, please forgive me.” Forgiveness is freeing to both to the one asking forgiveness and the one granting it. When physical death is near, being able to pass unincumbered by earthly woundings allows for a peaceful passage. It also helps reduce the likelihood of regrets for those beginning a life without their loved one.
In cases of physical death, there is a hard deadline beyond which we can no longer give or seek face-to-face forgiveness. Especially when there is much to be forgiven, it is best not left until the last minute. Some of the ways we hurt others, even unintentionally, may require significant time to work through to the point where the strong feelings can be released. Asking forgiveness without a willingness to do the work to heal the wounds created is a shallow ask unworthy of this solemn opportunity. While the ideal is to never leave anything unforgiven; the reality is usually something less. When we find we have wounded another, the quicker we seek forgiveness the more likely it is to be granted. Wounds that are treated early heal faster and more completely. And it leaves less to be forgiven when one of us is on our deathbed. Please forgive me is an admission of our imperfection and a (hopefully) sincere request to release another into their new phase of life without having to carry emotional baggage from us across the threshold.
I forgive you. If we are seeking forgiveness, we need to grant it, too. This expression of closure might go something like this: “If you fear there is anything you have said or done that offended me or continues to stand between us, please know that I forgive you.” Obviously, telling someone we forgive them without doing the work necessary to heal our wounds is just shallow, mostly meaningless chatter. Forgiveness does not mean we forget the past; it means we let go of the inhibiting impact the past has on our present. Forgiveness does not mean that we leave ourselves or our children unaccompanied with a parent who abused us as children. Forgiveness is not blind, nor does it mean we take unnecessary risks. Rather, forgiveness allows us to move on unincumbered by the remnants of past hurts. Clearly, certain sins are easier to forgive than others, and true forgiveness cannot be rushed. In that sense, there are cases where forgiveness on this side of the grave may not be possible. That, however, cannot stop us from forgiving what can be forgiven.
The saying, “Wounded people wound people,” is truer than many of us believe. And we are all wounded in many ways. The goal is not to go through life unwounded, but to not perpetuate the pain by continuing to be wounded by our wounds – sometimes called the second wounding – or to perpetuate the pain by wounding others. Fr. Richard writes, “If we do not transform our pain, we will always transmit it.” Doing the work of forgiveness is one way to transform our pain and stop wounding others.
Next week I will consider the final three statements: Thank you, I love you, and Goodbye.
This is the 53rd in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at email@example.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
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 Nouwen Meditation: Preparing for Death. Daily Meditation, Henri Nouwen Society, posted on September 16, 2020.