Ho’oponopono: An ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness can teach us to have a good goodbye.
What is Ho’oponopono? It is four meditations, processes, or steps on the journey, if you will, of life and of death. Why do I say both life and death? Because death is ultimately about our life. The four steps sound very simple but like anything they are not as straightforward as we might hope.
- I’m Sorry
- I forgive you
- I Thank You
- I Love You
When do we have to say these words? Whenever life transitions take place. Young people must go through these steps when they mature into self-actualized adults and leave home and wish to have adult relationships with their parents. Parents must say these things to their children to accept them as fully grown adults with the rights and responsibilities to make their own decisions and live with the consequences of whatever decisions they may make. Adults go through these steps whenever they make major transitions in their lives, new jobs, new relationships, new communities to live in; all involve saying goodbye to what was before. Any time a relationship comes to an end, or changes from what it once was to what it will become we need to work through these things.
If parents are going to continue to be parents in the case of a divorce they need to say these things. They may not need to say them aloud to each other (although that wouldn’t hurt) but they need to process them none the less. 1) I’m sorry and 2) I forgive you are vital if parents are going to continue being parents after a divorce. There simply comes a time when the adults must act like adults and remember that to put the children first and that means taking ownership that in every divorce there are two imperfect people who tried to make something work that did not work so both people need to say they are sorry and both people need to forgive, even if they never verbalize the words the feelings have to happen. The third and fourth phrases are also just as important 3) I thank you for trying to live the happy ending with me and even though it didn’t work I thank you for who you have been in my life. That might seem like a lofty thing to say to someone who has hurt you or betrayed you but at one point in your life you thought you were going to love this person for the rest of your life, right? 4) I love you, yes speaking about loving someone for the rest of their life, in most divorces that I have been familiar with there is some element to the idea that you will forever love this person in some way. Maybe it only goes as far as you don’t wish them to get hit by a bus but something inside you cares about their well being.
Aside from these times of transitions we need to say these things when someone is dying, when we are dying, or when someone we love has died. A person with a terminal diagnosis is grieving the loss of their own life and if time allows for peacemaking the final months, weeks, days of life can be a time of healing. When you are intentional in your life you say these things to the people you love every day of your life and therefore there is no incompleteness. If a life is cut short unexpectedly the loved ones of that person must work through these phrases. Love, gratitude, forgiveness and for anything we may have done that hurt our loved ones can be everyday practices that we incorporate into our lives so that we can live a life free from regret.
When my Mother was diagnosed with Stage four terminal lung cancer that has metastasized to her brain we were in shock but we had options and we had fifteen months to work through the four sentiments. We had a good goodbye. When my husband went from the picture of health in the morning to coding in the emergency room in my arms that night we had no goodbye, but yet I still had to work my way through each of these four sentiments on my own in varying ways. Almost two years after his death I am still working through these things. Grief knows no timeline and follows no calendar it is simply part of your being and you never return to the person you were before your loved one died, you become a different person every time you say goodbye.
I don’t mean to say that these four things are the only things that need to be expressed when facing the loss of a loved one, there indeed may be other things that we may want to say. What I am saying is that these things are necessary components to all goodbyes in life; growing up, graduating and leaving an academic community, breaking up with a companion or lover, changing jobs or retiring, dying or losing a loved one to death. If we make a practice of living our days as if we have no more days to live then we indeed might forgive and seek forgiveness more often, we might live with more gratitude in our hearts, and we might learn to love our neighbors and we might also learn to love ourselves in the process.by