Father Bob Hetherington, retired from St. Paul’s Church, in downtown Richmond, reminded our men’s group on the possible final 11 words spoken in one’s life. These eleven final words seem reverential in nature: “Please forgive me….I forgive you….Thank you….I love you.” Words count.
Reflecting a consuming reconciliation, and growing humility, these words can potentially ignite a smoothing of earlier conflicts, with life’s historical skirmishes. Conjuring up affections, assurances from one to another would enhance “the peace that passeth all understanding…that’s huge. With ending of life, spiritual transition can bring deep challenges with heavy lifting – when it doesn’t have to.
Kathleen Dowling Singh, author of The Grace in Dying, a hospice worker and lecturer, writes with a comforting softness: “Dying is safe. You are safe. Your loved one is safe.” That’s the message directed to all – both faith and faithless. Historian Shelby Foote wrote to novelist Walker Percy, about life distances from one place to another: “as if across a valley, a valley that I suppose would be called Unbelief – or Belief”. Questions of faith abide.
Recovering programs for the addicted often counsel the patient to take a “spiritual inventory”, which deals with one’s behavior toward another. Question: what do I need to clear up in my personal life? ; how can I award myself and others a more peaceful existence? Liturgical traditions often refer to sacraments (Latin – sacramentum) – one of the seven is “confession”, or Penance. Perplexingly, for most of us, this journey seems unavoidable. Those Akron, Ohio nuns of the 1930’s were instrumental in adding this sacramental concept to an untested addiction program: Alcoholics Anonymous. By today’s definition, it has bordered on doctrine – a tenet, bringing new lives for multitudes.
Then, the dismantling questions penetrate: if I constantly remembered that my breaths are numbered, how would I be living the moments of this life? Hounded by the ultimate challenge – how honest is my self-inquiry, or, better yet, do I choose to risk my significances at this point?
Singh was moved by Bronnie Ware’s The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Ware, a palliative care professional, with terminal patients facing the last three to twelve weeks of living, wrote of their regrets: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me” (…when people clearly look back, they discover they have not honored even a half of their dreams)….and “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard” (…they missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship). Unfulfillment can haunt.
In the 1950’s, pop singer, Perry Como, sang: “Find a wheel, and it goes round, round, round,….As it skims along with a happy sound,….As it goes, along the ground, ground, ground, ….’Till it leads you to the one you love!”
Dreams discarded, or not chosen, can hardly be retrieved. Self-absorbed choices often prevail – sometimes regrettable ones. Many still have time, even with heavy lifting, to reshape their values, bringing seamless gifts. Living life authentically connects…”as he breathed the chill night hour air, he was no longer so afraid”.
Bob Hetherington, with his shared 11 words, gives us goals and opportunities. Maybe it is seductive to consider such thoughts, but enhancing life, humanity, and preparation for the journey is far from the entrenchment of not showing up.
Raymond B. Wallace, Jr., former business executive, retired teacher at Godwin High School in Henrico County, currently serves as VRS Trustee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.