What does tap dancing have to do with Palliative Care? This is the question that I recently attempted to tackle at the Palliative Care Symposium at the New York Hospital Queens.
It was an amazing opportunity to share the story of tap dance as one of intergenerational love, oral tradition, the cycle of life, and the work of love. Indeed I was exposed early on to the oral history of tap dance, the intense relationships formed across multiple generations, and the fact that life was finite. I was also equally exposed to how the tap dance community dealt with those situations. We protect the stories, we honor our elders, and we dance at funerals. So when I first invited to speak at the Palliative Care Symposium I thought I would be speaking about those topics.
I became a regular attendee of funerals at the age of 12. But at tap dance funerals, we dance.
After initial conversations with the organizers and some recommended reading, my talk eventually began to encapsulate the additional ideas of completeness and love. I posed questions such as “Is it possible that we might reconcile the trials of our lives such that we might achieve closure?” or “Might our work and interactions be used to help move the world towards completeness?” – even in the midst of what we may observe to be a world that trends towards brokenness, or a state of being that is incomplete.
Yes. Yes we can, and there are simple and powerful words that we can use to do just that. They are promoted by mystics and poets and care givers alike. Dr. Ira Byock, a leader in the palliative care field, presents the words in his book entitled, The Four Things That Matter Most. They are, in no particular order: forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, and I love you.
I love you can mean the world to someone.
These Four Things have been used time and time again to work towards closure, resolution, reconciliation, and completeness. Saying the four things might be difficult at first. However, whether we’re young or old, as a last ditch effort for closure or as a daily practice, using the four things to alleviate bitterness, remove guilt, restore value to relationships, and complete the cycle of love, allows us to do the work that just might shift the trend of the world from that of being incomplete to that of being complete.