With the holidays here there are often many opportunities to connect with our family of origin. Often there is a bittersweet longing to return to the past where emotional baggage can be present. This can and often does pose a deterrent to making peace with our loved ones. Practically no one has had an idyllic childhood where no pain can be found in the memories of past hurts and family conflicts. When a parent, sibling or loved one is dying there is no better time than “now” to make peace with your past.
The Wall Street Journal pointed this out in an article last year. “Sibling discord has been around since the Bible. Cain killed Abel. Leah stole Rachel’s intended husband, Jacob. Joseph fought bitterly with his 10 older half- brothers. Parents often have a hand in fostering it.” The paper noted that research shows that “our sibling relationships are often the longest of our lives, lasting 80 years or more,” and that up to 45 percent of adults have a “rivalrous or distant relationship with a sibling,” even though this kind of estrangement often causes regret later in life. When a sibling or family member has been given a terminal diagnosis, there is a time limit imposed to do some hard work regarding forgiveness.
Death is the great equalizer and is about loss, loss is universal. One of the most poignant stories form my book, Soul Service: A Hospice Guide to the Emotional and Spiritual Care for the Dying ( Balboa Press, 2013) www.soulservice.info was of one that nurse Lillian Jeppersen relayed of an elderly patient who had been estranged from his son of many years. She had made many attempts before the elderly patient’s death to get his son to come visit one last time. For whatever reason, the son was adamant in his refusal to see his father. At the funeral after the man died, his son sat in the back of the church. He did not participate in the service. A month passed and he came into Lillian’s office sobbing. He said, “I’m so sorry I can’t go back and undo. I wanted to tell him I loved him now I can’t do that.” So Lillian said to him “You can still do that. I’m going to give you some paper and I want you to write a letter to your dad.” The young man went home to write his letter. When finished, Lillian accompanied him to the cemetery where his father was buried and after he prayed near the grave of his father he left the letter there and he began to talk to his dad. For this young man it was a way toward healing.
In Hawaii, there is a beautiful spiritual practice called Ho’oponopono. This term means “to make right”, especially those with whom you have relationships. In the Hawaiian tradition, is thought to be important to clean up any past problems in relationships, especially with relatives. This process encourages one to visualize the person you need to make peace with. Then imagine an infinite source of love and healing flowing from the top of your head (or your higher self). Open the top of your head and let the healing energy flow into your body. Let it fill up your heart and overflow to heal the situation with the person you are thinking about. While this occurs think of these four phrases: I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you. After you complete this exercise you should feel a certain level of peace.
Author of Loving What Is, Byron Katie (Random House, 2002) encourages us to examine or difficult relationships and come to see them in a new light by asking ourselves four questions: Is it true? Can you absolutely know it is true? How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought? Who would you be without that thought? If we can turn the thought around and stop waging war with others in our mind, this turnaround can be a prescription for happiness.
Making peace with your dying loved one is essential to having a better grief recovery experience. Don’t put it off for some future date, do it now while there is still time. You won’t regret the effort.