“A word fitly spoken, is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
“He’s still got some work to do.” As soon as the hospice doctor spoke those words, I understood what he meant. The doctor had done all he could do to relieve his patient’s physical pain, but there was spiritual pain that no amount of morphine would break. The doctor knew, and I knew, that the spiritual would have to catch up with the physical if the patient would experience what hospice calls a “good death”.
You might have seen what I am talking about. There is the grandmother who will not, and cannot, die until she gets things squared away with her granddaughter. Or, there is the man who dies smiling after mending bridges with a childhood friend. I’ve seen that and things like it many times.
It was thus as a hospice chaplain I learned five things people need to say before they die. I saw people, when saying these things, relieve their pain as well as the pain of some around them. But the five crucial things we need to say are for a good death, as well as for a good life:
- Forgive me.
- I forgive you.
- I love you.
- Thank you.
Simple statements, but so powerful! As I saw the gift these words gave to dying people, it occurred to me that these words are also needed for the living. These are five statements promoting not only a good death but, promoting a truly good life. So I keep trying to say these five things frequently to others.
But these are also five statements already woven through the Bible! Consider:
- FORGIVE ME. We learn the need to say this daily in the Lord’s Prayer. Not only am I in need of frequently asking the Lord for His forgiveness, but, I need also to frequently ask this of others. I often experience the lightness and joy that can come with saying, “Forgive me.” It lifts a huge burden.
- I FORGIVE YOU. Scripture also commands us to be tenderhearted, and forgiving of one another as God has forgiven us. For me not to say “I forgive you” is to break the bridge over which I too must pass. I find myself in frequent need of asking the Lord’s forgiveness, and the forgiveness of others. Asking forgiveness helps keep things from festering and from becoming bitter. I forgive and a prisoner is set free: me!
- I LOVE YOU. I have witnessed a grown man break down and sob when finally hearing his dying father say, “I love you.” I have counseled hurting spouses who have gone months, sometimes years, without hearing the empowering words “I love you.” These words are dynamic in the church and the community said face-to-face, or in notes, phone calls, and even emails. People are longing to hear the incredible words “I love you.”
- THANK YOU. Here is an incredibly powerful pair of words strung together. How motivating it is to hear “Thank you”, as well as to say it. Faces light up! “Thank you, mom, for all the meals you fixed and the clothes you washed for me when I was growing up.” It’s great to see the smile on a policeman or on the face of a nurse when you say “Thank you.” It can revive flagging spirits.
- GOOD-BYE. It helps me to remember that one day I will say a final goodbye and to live daily in that awareness. I don’t want to say goodbye in the morning if things are not right between my wife and me. Knowing I will one day say a last good-bye reminds me to keep short accounts and never hold onto a grudge. It helps me try and live so that when my time comes, the only thing left for me to say in life will be “Good-bye!” Hopefully no hospice doctor will have to say, “He’s still got some work to do.”
Just some things I have been especially thinking about during COVID-19. The book of Proverbs would call them words fitly spoken!
A Fellow Traveler,