There’s a song about a man who shares his insights with his friend. His friend listens very intently, as these are the man’s final words. To paraphrase, the man says that he has learned to love deeper, speak sweeter, and give forgiveness… all because he was near the end of his life. The man expresses hope that his friend would learn these lessons as well, but learn them while he still had life ahead of him.
There are four great truths that have helped me during my years-long journey with chronic kidney disease. Although I had always known the power of these truths, their importance was driven home after someone gave me a book as a gift—The Four Things That Matter Most, by Dr. Ira Byock. In it he writes about the lessons taught him by his patients who were also nearing the end of their lives. After I read the book, I determined that these lessons would always be a part of my life. These four simple, yet powerful, phrases could change your life too, so I’d like to share them with you: “Please forgive me.” “I forgive you.” “Thank you.” “I love you.”
Please Forgive Me
The first thing that matters most is saying “Please forgive me.” This simple phrase is only three words long, yet it has the ability to break down walls, melt hardened hearts, and repair broken relationships.
I once gave a copy of The Four Things That Matter Most to a physician-friend of mine. I did this because when I had begun seeing this doctor years earlier, I was an angry, out-of-control diabetic who didn’t want to do the work required to manage my disease. During one of those office visits many years ago, he threw down my chart and bluntly told me I was wasting both his time and my own. He was right.
On the inside front cover of the book I wrote a note. The first thing I wrote was, “Please forgive me for having wasted your time so long ago.”
I Forgive You
The second thing that matters most is saying “I forgive you.” How easy this sounds, but how difficult it can be. We selfishly hold on to forgiveness when, in fact, it is meant to be given away. There is nothing more freeing than the feeling of forgiveness, both when given and when received. The second thing I wrote to my physician-friend was, “I forgive you for speaking to me so bluntly that day when you said I was wasting your time.”
The third thing that matters most is saying “Thank you.” How often do we say and hear these two simple words? Not nearly enough. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for listening. To my friend, I wrote: “Thank you for speaking to me so bluntly that day when you said I was wasting your time. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of being your patient.”
I Love You
The fourth thing that matters most is saying “I love you.” We assume that the people in our lives know how we feel about them and that we love them. We take this assumption for granted, yet wrongly so. The words “I love you” are powerful. They can “stop” a heart by filling it with emotion, or “restart” a heart that feels abandoned. To my friend, I wrote: “I love you. You helped me save my life.”
About the Author
Dawn Dungan is a kidney transplant patient who has lived over three decades with chronic illness. She shares her lessons in life through writing, teaching, and public speaking on topics of kidney disease, diabetes, blindness, and death/dying. She lives in Billings, Montana.
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