A few months ago I was listening to an episode of Elise Loehnen's excellent podcast Pulling The Thread where she spoke with Frank Ostaseki, who was the founding director of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. During the episode, he spoke of the importance of every day goodbyes and asked her how she left a party: did she take the time say a proper goodbye to people, or did she just do an Irish goodbye and just sneak out? I do both, depending on my energy level at that moment.
In my TEDx Talk "How talking about death can help you truly live" I spoke about the importance of completing our relationships by using the four phrases from Dr. Ira Byock's book The Four Things That Matter Most - "Please forgive me," "I forgive you," "Thank you" and "I love you" and how we don't have to wait until we know our time is limited to say them, but how we can say them now. Hopefully my final goodbye is a ways off, but what I've recently started doing is writing thank you notes. What I actually call them is my "In case I'm hit by a bus" notes. I started thinking about the people who I've known over the years who, for whatever reason, I'm no longer in touch with too often. Teachers who made a difference in my life; friends from years ago whose lives I see play out on social media but we haven't connected other than comments on posts or likes. People whom I don't get the opportunity to connect with in person or on phone because life gets so busy and/or we've become a society who communicates by sharing funny memes and Instagram posts. (Or is that just me...?")
So I started writing them thank you notes. Notes where I thank them for qualities of theirs I admire; times with them I'll never forget; ways they affected my life; lessons I've learned from the way they live their life. I tell them that I'm not planning on going anywhere just yet, but just in case I get hit by a bus, I want them to know all this. Writing them has been an amazing experience. It's brought me back to times and places in my life that I haven't thought about in years, and when I put the envelope in the mailbox I feel...lighter.
And the response I've received has been equally amazing. Gratitude from the person for being witnessed and seen, and, in many cases, for being reminded that the tough experiences we go through are very often turned into gold through that mysterious alchemical process that happens that we can then share with other people.
Yes, it's important to have your advance directives and wills done before you die. But it's equally important (if not more so?) to let people know how they touched you throughout your life.
So here's my challenge for you: write one of these notes each month in 2024. Send them...or not. I'll be curious about the experience.