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Dying Before Death

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By Paul Kowalewski

Dying Before Death

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Dying Before Death

by Paul Kowalewski

It’s been pretty quiet at our house – a far cry from the last couple days when the house was filled with family. Our grown sons were here with me and my wife, my brother was here too, and when you throw in a couple of dogs, it was a “beehive” of activity.

I’ve been reflecting on those “family” days spent together – cooking meals, a trip to the Farmer’s market, swimming in the pool with the dogs, hours of dinner table conversation going well into the night. It was a time that made me ever more aware of just how much I cherish the people I love in my life.

Yesterday I came across an article by Dr. Ira Byock, a nationally renowned “hospice-care” physician. In the article, Dr. Byock talked about his extended research and years of experience with people who were facing their imminent death, suggesting that there is a basic pattern that emerges among people when they are at “death’s door.”

When all the veneer has been stripped away, all the many strategies and goals and aspirations of life are just a pile of dust, the only thing that ultimately remains and the only thing that ultimately matters are the people we love in our lives – “it’s all about relationships.”

Dr. Byock suggested that, for most people, as they stand at the threshold of death, there are four simple basic things they feel compelled to say to their loved ones:

Please forgive me

I forgive you

Thank you

I love you

As I have been thinking about these four phrases, these eleven simple words, I called to mind the many documentaries about the events of 9/11 that featured recordings of “last moment”conversations between people on the hijacked planes and their loved ones.

They knew their plane was going down, they knew they were about to die, and so they made frantic, heartfelt and tearful last minute phone calls to the people they loved – husbands, wives, children, brothers.

They did not want to leave this world with those eleven words unspoken: “Son, forgive me,” “Honey, I love you and I want to thank you for being my wife, ” “Dad, I’m sorry I was such an ungrateful son, please forgive me.”

I am reminded of something author and spiritual guide, Eckart Tolle, once said:

Death is the stripping away of all that is not you.

The secret of life is to ‘die before you die’

and find there is no death.

In a very real sense, each and every one of us stands at the threshold of death- it may not be immanent but it is inevitable, and life is always shorter than we think.

So many people spend their days building up their fortunes, advancing careers, climbing up the ladder of success, the endless of hours of work piling money in the bank, accumulating lots and lots of stuff. But in the end, we will all come to the realization that, in essence, none of it really matters – the only thing that really counts in life is the love we have for one another – it’ s all about relationships.

So indeed the “secret of life is to die before you die.” When we strip away our “ego,” we die to our self-centeredness and our false sense of self-importance, and we discover that only relationships ultimately remain – we find our “true self.”

None of us has to wait until we are at death’s door to understand that the only thing that really matters in life is our “relationships.” Every day of our lives we can “die before we die” by touching the hand of another and speaking the eleven words of those four phrases:

Please forgive me

I forgive you

Thank you

I love you

Please visit Paul’s blog The Desert Retreat House for more articles, and check out his book on Amazon:


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