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In the years since my father’s death in 2018, I have reflected often that, though we had many heated conflicts, beneath all our differences was – and still is – an enormous amount of love. And even at the end, my father helped me learn a priceless life lesson: Don’t Wait!
In the last few months of his life, Raim kept saying over and over, “Irene, I should have told my kids how proud I am of each of you.”
And, over and over, I answered, “Thank you. We are proud of you too, because you are amazing.” At that point, the reality that my father was amazingly difficult as well as amazingly wonderful just wasn’t as important as letting him know how much he mattered to me. We also shared other messages that Hospice recommends for making peace with people we love.
I remember thinking, “I wish we could have done this sooner!” because our relationship would surely have been easier if we had. And I also felt incredibly grateful that we had the chance to do this before he died.
The “Don’t Wait” lesson: Life can change in an instant. Right now, ask yourself whether there is anything you would want to say to yourself or someone important to you before something sad happens. For your own peace of mind and emotional well-being, why not say it NOW? Don’t wait until it’s too late.
Here are 5 “Don’t Wait” messages to share, free of expectations of what the other person might say or do. Sometimes these messages can feel hard to share without caveats or conditions, so we’ve added *We Can advice to help remove some of the obstacles that can get in our way.
1. “I love you!” Make sure that the people we love know that we love them. Even if we feel annoyed, upset, or angry with people dear to us, or even ourselves, we need to remember that those upset feelings can be like clouds blocking our view of the sun. The sun is still there even if we cannot see it or feel its warmth. And our love for our important people can still be there, even if we don’t feel loving in the moment.
• We Can: Although we might have told them yesterday, we still need to tell them again today. To give this message with no strings attached, it is important to express love without needing the other person to say, “I love you” back. And we need to decide to love ourselves, even if we are unhappy about some things we wish were different.
2. “I am sorry!” In our important relationships, there will be instances when we say or do things that are hurtful or even harmful. Even if what happened wasn’t our fault or was truly necessary, we can still be sorry for the sadness, pain, or damage that we caused – and try to find ways to make amends.
• We Can: If what happened was our responsibility and was not in keeping with our own values, we can say that we would not like to be treated that way ourselves, and state what we will do things differently in the future. Again, when we say we are sorry, it is important to do this without expecting that the other person will tell us that everything is okay or say that our apology is accepted. Our Conscious Apologies article includes more about this skill.
3. “I forgive you!” Forgiveness helps us to mend relationships and to let go of the burden of resentment towards others. As former President of South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela said to explain his lack of resentment about being kept in prison for decades, “Being resentful is like drinking poison and hoping it kills your enemies.” And everyone is better off if we can forgive ourselves as well as others.
• We Can: Forgiveness does NOT require trust or require that we stay close to people whose behavior is likely to continue to be destructive to our well-being. Remember that trust is built on a history of shared positive experiences, including someone’s response to our setting boundaries. Instead, we should look realistically at a person’s behavior and track record and see what is possible in moving forward with our relationship.
4. “Thank you!” Expressing gratitude helps people blossom, helps our relationships deepen, and increases our own well-being. We can be thankful to people for the good they have brought into our lives, even if they have also brought harm, even if we need to set boundaries at times, and even if we disagree with some of the things they do.
• We Can: Focusing on the positive with our attention and approval is like giving water to the plants in our garden that we want to see grow. In addition, many studies show that being able to notice what is good in our lives and to express our gratitude improves our own mental health, reduces stress, and increases our resilience in overcoming problems.
5. “I am proud of you.” My dear friend Nancy Driscoll served as Kidpower’s Board President for 7 years and mentored me for over 20 years. After what turned out to be our last conversation, Nancy hugged me strongly despite her frail body, kissed me on the cheek, and said with all the force of her strong spirit, “I am proud of you, honey!”
I was heartbroken when Nancy died a few months later. And in the years since then, every time I have lacked confidence in what we are doing with Kidpower, or worried about asking for help, I have heard Nancy saying, “I am proud of you, honey!” – and have found the courage to keep going.
• We Can: Recognizing and celebrating people’s good qualities and accomplishments, including our own, can give people strength throughout their lives – and peace at the end of their lives.
I love you. I am sorry. I forgive you. Thank you. I am proud of you. Don’t wait! Let’s make these 5 messages an ongoing relationship practice within our own hearts, minds, and spiritual beliefs; and with each other, other creatures, and our precious Earth.
Expressing our love, our regret for any harm we have done, our forgiveness for any harm done to us, our heartfelt thanks, and our pride in each other and ourselves will only strengthen our connections and add joy and meaning for ourselves and for every person whose life we touch.
Published: December 22, 2014 | Last Updated: July 15, 2020
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