Grief and What Matters Most

By Amy Sky

November 29th will mark the four-year anniversary of my mother Sandy’s passing. She was a wise and wonderful woman, a devoted mother, and also a gifted family and marriage therapist. Before her own untimely death, she had counseled hundreds of people on how to handle loss and transition. One of her favorite expressions was, ”Death ends the person, but it doesn’t end the relationship.”

My own bereavement process has been a long and winding road, full of both despair and a renewed understanding of and gratitude for the gifts my mother gave me. No two people grieve alike – even children who have lost the same parent will have different journeys. Grief comes in all shapes and sizes. On the website, it says that if you enter the phrase “Types of Grief” into Google, you will see a surprising number of results.

There is a definition of so-called Normal Grief – “ a grief response that falls under an extremely broad umbrella of predictability.” And then there is Complicated Grief – this “Refers to grief reactions and feelings of loss that are debilitating, long lasting, and/or impair your ability to engage in daily activities.” No one can predict the kind of grief you may experience after losing a significant person in your life. But the chances of avoiding complicated grief can be reduced, if you are able to have some closure before losing your loved one.

I was helped enormously by the book The Four Things That Matter Most by Dr. Ira Byock. He is an international leader in palliative care. He writes that four simple phrases — “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you,” and “I love you” — carry enormous power. He says that in many ways, they contain the most powerful words in our language. If we have the chance to say these words to someone who is dying, and have them say them back to us, they can help us move closer to what he calls “relationship completion”.

But by applying those phrases in life as well, we can experience a sense of wholeness, even in the wake of family strife, personal tragedy, divorce, or in the face of death. Dr. Byock believes conversations that include these phrases can increase our emotional healing. I love this book reviewer’s description: “He shows us how to avoid living with those awkward silences and uncomfortable issues that distance us from the people we love and erode our sense of well-being and joy. His insights and stories help us to forgive, appreciate, love, and celebrate one another more fully.”

I am so grateful I had a chance to have this “relationship completion” with my mother  while she was alive. This holiday season, I encourage you to give yourself and your loved ones the gift of saying the Four Things that Matter Most. To learn more about how to have these conversations, I recommend reading Dr.Byock’s book. With practical wisdom and spiritual punch, The Four Things That Matter Most gives us the language and guidance to honor and experience what really matters most in our lives every day.

Amy Sky

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