Let’s hurry to love people, they vanish so quickly
And all that’s left behind
are empty shoes, a deaf phone…
Only what’s unimportant drags on forever,
That what really matters happens much too quickly…
Don’t be certain there’s still time,
for certainty is uncertain…
We constantly love too little,
and perpetually, too late…
– Jan Twardowski
Too Busy To Live
There are so many things that seem important in everyday life. And even if we don’t think they are that important, we know they have to get done. Daily. Going to work, taking kids to school, planning dinner, getting the groceries, cooking, cleaning, organizing, planning… Even though we may think we have a solid hierarchy of values, in reality we tend to neglect what’s most important for the sake of things that we claim we don’t care that much about. If someone asked you what really matters to you, what are your dearest values in life, what would you say? Many of us would name relationships as our ultimate priority. No wonder- we are social creatures and connection, love, belonging are some of our top needs in life. How does it look in reality, though? How many times do you compromise your relationships because of your work, or other things that have to get done? How many times do you allow conflicts in your relationships to last much longer than they need to (in order to make a point, or to win the argument)? How many times do you “save” saying kind things like, “Thank you,” for a special occasion or forget to say, “I love you,” to those you deeply care about? Most of us tend to make these mistakes.
What Really Matters
It is hard to live our lives with memento mori constantly on our mind, so we don’t. We think we have plenty of time left to focus on our real priorities or to say things that we’ve been meaning to say. “Later” is our motto. The tricky part about life however, is that we don’t really know how much time we have left. So why wait to love, cherish, appreciate or forgive?
In his book, “The Four Things That Matter Most,” the author, Dr. Ira Byock, MD shared observations from his work with multiple dying patients and their close ones. His conclusion was that when facing death our relationships are all we really care about. According to Byock many people regret things that they haven’t said to their close ones before they died. He reminds us to remember to state what we think is obvious while we still can. According to Dr. Byock there are four things we should not postpone saying to those we care about:
- Please forgive me.
- I forgive you.
- Thank you.
- I love you.
Sounds very simple, doesn’t it? But when you think about it, is there a better way to express your appreciation of another person and your relationship with them?
The four statements do seem very simple indeed. And, they seem like things that we should say a lot in everyday life. Most of us love someone, most of us appreciate someone, and most of us sometimes hurt the one we love. Words of love, appreciation, and forgiveness should come out of our mouths more often then. But they don’t. What makes these simple statements so exclusive that we tend to save them only for special occasions? Why is it so hard to express love, gratitude, and forgiveness when expressing frustration and disappointment comes so naturally? In most cases, we certainly don’t have any problems criticizing each other and stating what’s bothering us in each other. Would we still waste our time on banal things and conflicts that shouldn’t really overshadow our love or friendship for someone if we knew our time was short?
Jared was an alpinist. He was 26 when he died in the mountains. He was a friend of mine and a fiancé of my close girlfriend, Dana. I remember Dana wondering whether she is ready to tell him that she loves him. Being very young, she treated the words “I love you” as a precious and exclusive gift you can only give out on special occasions. She treated those words seriously, and since it would be her first “I love you” she wanted to be sure she really felt it. She realized she was ready to say she loved him when he left to climb in the Alps. She was looking forward to his return to share the great news with him: she loved him! However, instead of seeing him again she got a phone call from his parents stating that he fell off of a cliff in the mountains and died. Later on she received a postcard that was found in the pocket of his coat that he was wearing when he died. The postcard with the Alps on it was addressed to her and it had only three sentences written on it: “I love you, I love you, I love you…”
Dr. Byock reminds us that, “we are, each one of us, at every moment, a heartbeat away from death.” Interestingly enough though, we tend to live like we are immortal and like there will always be time in the future to actually take care of what we value and express our feelings to others. Byock states, “We never know when we’re going to die. Completing our relationships by saying the Four Things to people who mean the most to us is a way of reaffirming and invigorating what’s truly important in our lives.”
Marta Oko-Riebau, MA has a private practice at Maria Droste Counseling Center. Marta works with clients on their relationships, self-esteem, assertiveness, finding meaning, and increasing life quality and enjoyment.