I was deeply moved by a piece I stumbled upon on CNN’s Belief Blog called, What people talk about when they die. As a psychotherapist for individuals and couples – as well as a writer about topics related to emotional and relationship health – I am keenly aware of the power of relationships to shape us. The quality of attachment with our parents/caregivers can plant the seeds of self worth, trust in others and the world. If experiences are unsupportive, love deficient and in many cases, laced with trauma, the seeds can flower into questions around self value and reliability of others. Our quality of attachment with the most important people in our early lives often shapes who we are in intimate adult relationships as well.
As we move through life with coping mechanisms that no longer serve us, we can find these to now be obstacles to living the happiest, most connected life possible. Fear, shame and vulnerablity can be anchors that weigh us down and prevent the emotional and relationship health that we deserve.
People can also have relationship struggles later in life with broken friendships, lost loves and other disappointments. For some they are patterns but for many, there is simply pain and regret around someone from the past that meant a lot to them.
What struck me the most about this piece was the message that yes, all of this matters not only in our experiences with self and others throughout life – but for many, at the very end as well.
The Belief Blog piece is written by a chaplain who learned early on as a student, that the sick and dying didn’t, for the most part, speak of God, religion or the meaning of their lives but rather – their families.
According to the hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan:
“They talk about their families: about their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters. They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave. Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally. They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not. And sometimes, when they are actively dying, fluid gurgling in their throats, they reach their hands out to things I cannot see and they call out to their parents: Mama, Daddy, Mother.”
What a powerful affirmation of the importance of being the best you can be for yourself and others, to make relationship repairs, not to allow an inability to forgive keep you from the most important people to you. Kerry’s piece illustrates the particular importance of doing the best you can to heal old wounds with your parents – and your children. If this is not desired or possible, work hard to maintain the relationships of those you consider family. Family doesn’t need to mean blood or legal connection. The goal is to be at peace with whatever your choices are.
Perhaps for you, it’s important to get right with your God as well. I am not minimizing the power of one’s faith and personal view of what happens at the end. For many, this may be the relationship at the top of the totem pole.
This is ultimately a lesson in making amends, in telling people how much you love them and to never forget for one minute that in the end…
Your relationships truly matter.