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Adventures in “Deathbed” Conversations

Updated: Dec 5, 2022

A story and an invitation and a challenge.  The story is here in this short Pecha Kucha video.

This was about people playing with courage…

So the invitation and challenge is a game, an experiment I play, composed around freedom and courage and the awareness of mortality.

The project had its roots in the letter writing workshops that I led over years.  I taught people to be more prolific and open and fun and colorful in the letters that they put into the mail, but I also started inviting people to write the amazing letters, the life-changers, the kind that are powerful in the lives of both the opener and the sender.

These were the ones that cleaned up messes, the “deathbed” conversations, the kind that we so often keep close until the last minutes of life to avoid the discomfort of taking the first steps — apology, forgiveness, sharing a truth or an emotion, acknowledging someone’s extraordinary contribution to our life.

We humans so very often never do get around to cleaning up these so-human messes, and we often leave it too late.

So these were my questions:

  • What would we -- as individuals and as a world -- be graced with by growing into a practice of having our “deathbed” conversations 10, 30, or 60 years before our anticipated death?

  • What friendships and bonds would be saved or grown or seeded?

  • What untruths would be acknowledged so that lives could move forward in transparency and health?

  • What bitterness of long-held guilt, anger, and resentment would not harden further and further into armor that trapped and poisoned the holder as much or more than the object?

  • Which of these poisons would not be passed down, affecting the mindsets and hearts of generation after generation?

  • What acknowledgement would strengthen the hearts of the world’s givers, great and small, in the moments when they need it most?

  • And what very cool lives and deathbeds would people be living into — transparent, clean, complete, loving, present.

I stand for this.

This game is not about your being attached to any particular response that you will receive, any certain outcome.  It demands that you be open to uncertainty, be willing to risk a little, share yourself, reach tendrils into the power hidden behind being vulnerable.  And from the inside at first, being vulnerable does seem like weakness.

But from the outside?

As Brene Brown is out there reminding us, from the outside vulnerability looks like strength, and it tastes like truth.

Therefore, you, I’m inviting you to step into this play with me.

I am playing the game again, committed to reach out three times in a month.  The way we play is this:  If you would like to do this with me,  send me a note and give me the best way to reach you.  At the end of a month I will contact you and simply ask if you would like to tell me a story about what happened with you.  If you wish, you may tell me, or not.  That’s all.  I would be honored to hear it. And I will ask if you are willing to let me share your story with or without your name as I move forward in exploring and sharing this extraordinary landscape.  Someday I will create a special home for people to share their stories as well.

Adventures in "deathbed" Conversations

The loveliest and easiest (for you) way I have found to play is this —

  1. For your own purposes at first, write a short note.  Keep it simple and clear.

  2. Begin with acknowledgment — of that person and his or her role in your life.

  3. Then speak into what for you is true.

  4. And then perhaps into something you are letting go — resentment, anger, guilt. Something forward-moving.

Be simple, clear, honest, compassionate.  Not too much into explaining or justifying here.

Keep them simple —  I am sorry.  I forgive you.  I forgive myself.  Thank you more than you know.  I love you.  I wanted you to know.

When you have this note in your hands, you may do several things with it:

  • If the person is no longer living, or is dangerous to you, or if you are not sure, mail the note to yourself at your own address.

  • Send it through the mail, and read it when it comes back to you several days later.

  • Then do what feels right with it.  Burn it, kiss it, share it, tear it into tiny pieces and let the wind or river take them.  Then see what happens next.

Nota bene: I have experienced a few rather extraordinary things shortly after this point.  Can’t explain it and I don’t try.  But it’s fun.

If the person is living and safe for you to contact, try one of these:

  • Ideally, meet face to face, read it aloud right there, and then give it into their hands.

  • Second best, phone them, read the letter to them, listen to them, and then put it into the mail for them.

  • Or simply mail the letter.

Afterward, sit quietly for a moment.  Breathe into what is new.  And be gentle with yourself for the rest of the day, at least.

On safety:  This is not about putting yourself in danger, or in the way of abuse or damage.  Anything to be said to such a one is for your own benefit, so write and mail it to yourself only.

There is great freedom in simply speaking your truth.

Not sure whom you might reach out to?  Read the following sentences and add in a name.  You’ll know.

  • “You made an amazing difference in my life.” (If you do just one, do this one! Everyone write this one!)

  • “I have wronged you.”

  • “You have wronged me.”

  • “I will never forget how…”

  • “You taught me…”

We humans hurt each other by action and inaction, we wait to acknowledge someone, we tell lies, we don’t set clear boundaries for others, or we are simply in a bad place at a bad time, and something goes wrong.

 And what we don’t realize enough is the weight we carry here in these messes, the energy stolen from us each day, week, month and year in carrying such weights.  Playing this game is first and foremost a gift through courage to ourselves, and then to others, to the generations that follow.

Build up your muscles slowly, start with gratitude.  And through all of this, the first rule is kindness.  Gentleness with yourself, compassion to the other.  Stay in these throughout to the very best of your ability.

This game is my gift to you and your life, and to myself and mine.  And each of these stories reads as a portrait of courage.  I am collecting the stories of what happens when courage is gathered to take the step through to the glory on the other side of self-consciousness, of embarrassment, of discomfort, of ego, and into the possibility of wholeness and completion.

It starts with a note and a conversation.

What would be available to you then when you have laid down this burden?

Tell me in a comment.  Contact me with any questions or to clarify.  Be safe.

And come back on the other side of what happens, to tell me your story.

Blue skies…


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