Recently, I was with some men friends as we spent time with one who was having health difficulties and was just finishing a chemotherapy series. We are all older – the early 60s to late 70s. As we chatted and reminisced about our youth, our adventures and misadventures, I realized we were doing a kind of collective “life review.”
Life review is a process of seeking to understand the meaning of our life as we near the end of our journey. Often, life review involves becoming aware of unresolved conflicts, failures and regrets. Sometimes, we seek a way to heal.
In a recent study about Life may actually flash before your eyes on death, a team of scientists set out to measure the brainwaves of an 87-year-old patient who had developed epilepsy. During a neurological recording, the patient suffered a fatal heart attack. This offered an unexpected recording of a dying brain. It revealed that in the 30 seconds before and after, the man’s brainwaves followed the same patterns as dreaming or recalling memories. (Equally interesting was that these brainwave patterns continued for 30 seconds after the patient’s heart stopped beating, providing further evidence to suggest that physical death and awareness are not the same thing.) The old saying that our life flashes before our eyes at the moment we die may well be true, at least for some of us.
I have spent time with many people as they neared the end of their lives and as they went through the same process as at the recent gathering of my friends. In almost every situation, they felt some relief. Another friend, in his mid-60s, also with serious health problems, recently reached out to an older brother with whom he had been estranged for most of their adult lives. He had his telephone number from other family members, but no address and wanted to send him a drum he had made (my friend is a talented musician and craftsman). This estrangement was a source of sadness and regret for him. Unfortunately, the brother did not respond … at least yet.
We do not need to wait until we are actively dying and do not have the presence and mind, health and energy to reach out. We do not need to wait until 30 seconds before our body is physically “dead” to do a life review. We can all do a life review now, perhaps even if we are young and seemingly healthy. Doing this in my own life has made it possible to reconnect with family members that I had a history of conflict and less-than-gentle relations with. At a reunion with my brothers last Fall (2021), I commented that, as I had aged and mellowed, they had all become wonderful human beings. They understood what I was saying and laughed. We are all closer than ever and will be getting together again this Summer.
Palliative-care physician Dr. Ira Byock, author of The Four Things That Matter Most, says that dying people typically want to hear and say four things: “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you”, and “I love you”. I suggest that we all want to say and hear these things even before we, or the other person, is dying. So to all the world (or at least to those that might read these words) …
Please Forgive Me
I Forgive You
I Love You