With masks for Playa dust, not for virus, Patricia, McKinley, and Kevin in the “O” of LOVE. Always our last word.

The case for expressing “Last Words” right now.

About three weeks ago I developed a fever and headache that would come in strong about midday and last the rest of the day. On day three I went to my doctor, who said, “You have a virus of some kind, but I don’t think it’s COVID — given your medical history, your lungs are in such rough shape I am pretty sure it’d be there by now and you’d be having a cough.”

I left feeling a little easier until I woke up the next morning with a cough.

Then some deeper thinking started.

My doctor is right. My lungs are not the best. Also, I am a cancer survivor. I lost a third of my left lung due to metastatic synovial sarcoma (a particularly aggressive form of cancer) with which I had a 5 year battle in my adolescence, have had pneumonia a few times due to all the long times under general anesthetic, and there is some kind of inflammatory disease that impedes my lung volume even beyond the missing lobe. So yes, I am high-risk when it comes to COVID-19, meaning I have a greater chance of dramatic impact from the disease and a greater likelihood of dying if I contract it.

But that was not the reason for my deeper thinking and rising panic that morning. The blessing of cancer at a young age, and having been given a terminal prognosis at the time, is I have been able to move death from where it exists in most people — a conceptual understanding (“Yeah, sure, I know we all die someday”) — to an integrated knowing, where almost every choice since 18yrs old has been based on the awareness that this ends in either one blink, two blinks, or three blinks of an eye. It is as real to me as my breakfast this morning, and I have made peace with that reality many years ago.

And so, it wasn’t the threat of death alone that put me into a panic that morning. It was the COVID-19 curveball that I never saw coming with regards to dying of that particular disease that had seriously shattered the peace I had cultivated with death so many years ago. The detail around what actually happens in this case: No loved ones or family members being allowed in the room. No profound moments of the passing of feelings, love, and the resolutions of last minute unfinished spiritual business. None of the eye-to-eye and soul-to-soul contact with each other that exists beyond when one can no longer vocalize but through which the inexpressible can be finally expressed. None of that. Just the sight of smudged sterile plastic and the unbearably monotonous and consistent sound of machines as the light fades.

That scenario was not in my “peace-with-death paradigm” at all, and the deep thinking and panic commenced.

The truth was that in 24 hours I could have progressed enough where I’d be shuttled to an ER and have to say goodbye to my wife and kids and not know if I would ever see them again. No profound last exchanges, no last expressions of unconditional loving and gratitude — most likely only the quick veneer of an exchange as the car door closes pretending that we’ll all be having dinner later. Cancer had taught me to not go into denial mode or to pretend a possibility didn’t exist at the expense of missing an experience that I damn well want to have. I had learned to be failsafe about that — or at least as failsafe as each reality would allow. It’s not about choosing negative or positive thinking. This is a different level than that. This is about simply and single-mindedly honoring the experience you want to have and making choices to optimize that happening given what is real in the moment.

That morning, all of this crept into my daily dawn meditation with the subtlety of a tsunami and with the absolute intention to be carefully considered in that particular level of consciousness — non-attachment to old thought and a wide aperture for new thought. And from that space, a very clear resolution emerged that would totally dissolve my panic. So clear and perfect, I still cannot grasp why it hadn’t ever occurred to me before:

Be failsafe. Express what your last words would be today to your wife and kids. That way, no matter what happens — you die of COVID-19 (one blink), you die of a car accident two years from now (two blinks), or you die of dementia at 92 having no memory you even had anyone to say goodbye to (three blinks) — you and your loved ones will have had the experience. You will have not been denied.

So I decided it would happen that day, not from a place of pessimism or doom or drama at all — I wasn’t experiencing that. No, this was emerging from a place of imagination, great relief, and a strange exquisite anticipation of suddenly inviting in the divine to a day I had never planned to. I gave myself some time that day to loosely consider the kinds of things I would want to express to my wife, Patricia, and my sons McKinley and Kevin. I deliberately did not write anything down — like in the actual period of transition, it is what emerges authentically and spontaneously from the soul, in the truth and reverence of the moment, beyond what the thinking mind could possibly conjure, that is what is called for. And so I trusted, that as I turned my gaze to each of them later that day, what came up from my heart, into my breath, my mouth, and then somehow through the mask (yes, not feeling great, I opted to be wearing one around my loved ones for those days) would be absolutely perfect in that moment.

That said, my heart directed that I speak to these general areas: the incomprehensible depth and intensity of love I had for each of them, an immaculate reflection their lives as witnessed by my eyes, the ways they are each so absolutely incredible as beings, their unique majesties as individuals that they are yet to fully own, the blessings they give their world every day, their own genesis story and our family’s genesis story, my apologies for the times I have hurt them and for the times I could have given them more joy, the one piece of wisdom that if they are willing to connect to will at the very least enable them to make the best of any situation and at the most turn it into a true miracle, and finally my own peace with dying and to know, regardless of how messy or unpleasantly it may transpire, that I am ok with that transient experience and beyond grateful for the life I have had thanks to the blessing of each of them.

And so as dinner finished, just as I knew the mad scramble to the zooms with friends, video games, and TV, would commence, I asked for everyone’s attention. I asked them if I could just have an uncustomary hour of everybody’s time before the usual would commence. I was myself nervous at what I was to do and how it might be received as possibly inappropriate and too dramatic, as a “here-goes-woo-woo-dad” moment, as too intimate and emotional to be comfortable for teen sons, misinterpreted by my wife as me feeling more sick than what I had let on, etc. etc. — my ego had a hundred reasons not to venture outside of its comfort zone and shelve it as a crazy idea. But it was, on this day, no match for the other aspect of me. The one that knew death very well and had learned to be failsafe about having the experiences I want to have in this one, two, or three blinks. And so despite the presence of slight cringes and subtle eye rolls so common in the teen response repertoire as I began to express the context I have just given you above, I did continue. To my surprise, when between the delivery of the context and my addressing each of them as individuals, I asked if they were ok with where I was going, their response was full engagement. My oldest, not taking his eyes off of me, replied in a quiet and steady intensity, “Yes. I want to hear this.”.

And he did. They all did. Each of the areas that my heart deemed important and through words I had never heard before. None of which I will recount here because that is not the purpose of this, but I will say that they generated tears, laughter, inquiry, gratitude, and reciprocal loving and expressions that gave my heart and soul ease and relief. Now it didn’t matter what happened, it had been done. I felt the inconceivable heavy burden of potentially missed connection and loving be lifted and actually transmuted into a whole new level of connection between us.

At the very end, before the returns to Fortnite and girlfriends, we all agreed, “What if we did this every couple years or so? Why wait until that “bad” thing finally happens. Let’s stay fresh with how we feel about each other so there is no regret should something ever happen.” It is my intention to make sure that happens, given that I clearly did not succumb to whatever it was that passed through me over those few days.

So if the purpose of this writing is not to express what the ‘last words” were, what is it?

For me, given the blessing of peace, freedom, and relief it has gifted me, and how it opened my heart wider than ever before, it’s to strongly encourage others to do the same.

To designate an intentional “last words” session with our loved ones and to do it soon and with joy.

What would be our last words to another and why not let them know now? Why do we wait? Why risk missing what must be one of the most incredible moments of life? The moment where we get to look directly into our loved one’s eyes, and as if there is no tomorrow and no worry of living with theirs and our discomfort, express fully and without constraint how much they mean to us, how much they have given us, how much we wanted to give them but never felt it was enough, how much the divine made itself known to us through the depth of our love for them.

And perhaps not just to our loved ones, but designate a “last words” session with our friends (next on my list!) as well — how they made us laugh so hard we thought we’d die, or how their presence gave us the courage to enter so many of our caves to slay our dragons, or how we do actually love them even though we’ve never said it, how we were able to tell them things we could not tell our family at times and that it saved us in those moments, how much we appreciated them for holding our hair back that time we came home drunken from an East Village crawl and had to kneel in front of the toilet as the evening’s tequila shots came back up into the world, and so on, and so on, and so on.

And why stop there — why not keep going with a “last words” session with our colleagues at work — to share the bliss of a moment where they gave us complete credit for something magical that got achieved, the regret of something silly we said that may have hurt them, the elaborate description of the seemingly littlest thing that we so love about them, how much less fun work would be if they weren’t there. As a leadership coach, I have seen that when leaders dare greatly in this area the results are profound. Trust is gained, not dissolved. Bonds are formed, not broken. And as a result, bigger objectives are tackled and achieved.

So why wait until the light is fading?

Why not let it out now when there is so much light left to love each other in?

What if “last words” weren’t only to punctuate an ending between us?

What if “last words” were also to birth a beginning between us?

What if “last words” are actually meant to be said right now — to be “now words”?

What if tomorrow, one by one, people began to have “last words” sessions with everyone they cared for? What if everyone truly knew how all their close ones felt about them?

How might that knowing change our world?

It may require daring on your part, but I promise you nothing but priceless divine connection on the other side.

Let me know how it goes. Maybe we can start something.

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