by Jonathan Robinson, M.A., M.F.T: In his workshops on death and dying, author Steven Levine asks people a simple question:
“If you knew you would die in exactly one hour, who would you call, and what would you say to them?” He then has people write down the name of the person they’d call, and the message they would want to convey. Mr. Levine then asks the workshop participants, “What are you waiting for?” Some people make elaborate excuses for why they can’t make the call—while others simply go to the nearest phone and pour out their heart as if this were their last call.
When we become aware of our mortality, it puts us in touch with what’s really important to us at our core. I’ve never heard anyone on their death bed confess, “I wish I had spent more time watching TV or at the office.” In workshops I lead I often guide people in a “ten minutes to death meditation.” I have them imagine that they are going to die in ten minutes, and during this time I have them review their life. As people contemplate their life, I ask them if they have any regrets. I have them review the highlights of their life, and think about who they have loved, and who they will most miss. Then, I ask them to think of the person they will most miss and silently express what they would like to say to them before they “die.” This simple little exercise leads most people to tears of sweet sadness, love, and gratitude.
When I saw how powerful an effect simply thinking about making a “last call” had, I knew I had to try it in real life. When I thought of who I would call and what I would want to say, my mind became filled with terror. I realized that this is a much easier exercise to think about than to actually do. Yet, I vowed to face my fear. Because I knew I might turn into a puddle of tears or immediately hang-up once I actually called this person, I decided to write down what I wanted to say. As I wrote my letter, I realized how much this person had meant in my life, and how I had never adequately thanked him. Tears of love and gratitude overwhelmed me. When I finally got the nerve to make the call, I began by reading the letter. Soon, I nakedly expressed my feelings without a “script.” There were tears on both sides of the phone. It felt wonderful.
Making a Last Call, or writing a Last Letter is a remarkable way to deepen a relationship. It’s a journey into the land of vulnerability and love. When we are conscious of death’s calling, it helps us become aware of feelings that are normally hidden below the surface. Sharing your true, vulnerable and naked self with someone you love is a great gift for both you and the person you call. If calling and sharing from your heart seems too difficult for you to do, consider writing and mailing a letter that expresses your inner most feelings. By writing, you can feel assured that you will say exactly what you want to say. In addition, your friend or family member will then have a written reminder of a magical moment shared with you.
Besides deepening relationships, The Last Call can be a powerful therapeutic tool. A woman named Maggie recently came to my office distressed over the difficult relationship she had with her mother. Maggie and her mother had been locked in a power struggle for many years, and both felt frustrated and misunderstood. I suggested that Maggie write a Last Letter to her mother so she could express different thoughts and feelings than she normally did. The effect of that letter was immense. Once Maggie had reached out to her mother in a new way, her mother responded in kind. Although they still have difficult moments in their relationship, Maggie told me her connection with her mother now feels totally different than before.
The Last Call idea need not end with one special person. It’s a great way to deepen anyrelationship. People are hungry to hear heartfelt expressions of love, gratitude, and appreciation. The more you’re willing to share your soul with people you care about, the more likely others will be to share their heart with you. Although you may find you resist this exercise because of its intensity, if you can get up the courage, I think you’ll be amply rewarded. Why not give it a try?
Wow, what a good idea. I shall attempt it.