Four Things at the End of Life

It’s a touching and melancholy thing to walk in a cemetery. There is an old German grave yard by our new home. I drive past it every day and see it by the side of the road. Today, with the sunshine bright and the air beautifully cool, I took a walk to visit it.

The average age of those buried was roughly 73. In that most were buried in the teens of the 20th century, I found it interesting how many had lived to that age given all that threatened lives back then.

babygraveThe graves of children are always touching. One little grave was of a little boy named Herman who lived only four days in 1916. Another was for a little two-year-old girl named Helen and another for a little girl who didn’t quite make it to her 6th birthday. Tiny little sparks of life that went out so quickly.

Standing in the cemetery, I found myself not thinking of the deaths of these people, but of their lives. There were several family groupings of graves. Mother, father, sister and brothers buried together over the years. Which ones died at peace with their loved ones? Which ones left nothing but pain behind? Did they live well and then die well?

A friend tipped me off to an insightful program recently on the Joy Cardeen Show about the end of life. The guest was Dr. Ira Byock, a palliative care specialist and author of the book, The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living. Dr. Byock says there are four statements that can help people get to a point of peace when time is short: Please forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, and I love you.

“If you’re wondering what you really need to do to get ready to not just end a life, but to feel complete before you leave this life, it usually boils down to at least having said those four things … to the people who you love, or once loved,” Byock said.

“You don’t have to be dying for these four things to matter,” said Byock. “You really just have to be mortal. And even if you think you’re immortal, if you love somebody that’s mortal, well, really think about it: That’s enough to put you at risk, right? They might die at any time and you will have lost the opportunity to say those things before your relationship comes to an end.” (Source: Joy Cardeen Show)

While the program was not coming from a Christian perspective specifically, it was exactly on target, and profoundly true for all. Christ emphasized the essential nature of forgiveness in our lives as Christians. In his template for prayer, what we call the Lord’s Prayer, he said, “…and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…” At the hour of our death, which none of us can predict, how crucial it is to have those things squared away.  It’s not our careers, wealth, religious activities, ministries to the public, or any kind of external success that counts, either in the eyes of our families or God. These four statements sum everything up that matters most:

“Please forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, and I love you.’

(Thanks to Dr. Ira Byock for giving a better sermon than many evangelical Christian pastors. The full program can be heard at this link.)

6 thoughts on “Four Things at the End of Life

  1. Fearfully Wonderfully Me says:

    Beautiful. I learned quite a bit about palliative care when I was helping my grandpa pass after a tragic accident. Those really are the four things I try to live by since we are never guaranteed a tomorrow! We need to enjoy the life that God has given us now.

  2. Lorrie says:

    Great advice; thank you for sharing. (I’ve gotten behind on your blog due to a busy summer; will have to catch up – I’ve missed it!)

  3. terriergal says:


    When my dad was on his deathbed and we were visiting him, before we left, he took my hand and the hand of my husband (we were not engaged yet at the time) and said “God bless you. God bless you both.” He was normally a fairly stoic guy, which was frustrating at times. Still all of us say we would not have traded him and he did love us all very much. So this was a very important moment for us. Watching him fade away from the strong opinionated man we all knew and loved was very painful. I am so thankful for the comfort of knowing he was in Christ.

  4. healinginhim says:

    Ingrid, Thank for this post and the link.
    For several years I’ve been attempting to put “the paperwork” in order should anything happen to me, however, what has been of greatest concern are the relationships I have now and will be leaving behind. Am I leaving a legacy that will reflect my deep love? A love that has grown and been watered with prayerful tears. This is who I am the longer I remain “in Christ.”

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