cover image The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book about Living

The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book about Living

Ira Byock. Free Press, $24 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-4909-6

Byock, a physician specializing in end-of-life care, argues that four crucial phrases--""I forgive you"";""Please forgive me"";""Thank you""; and""I love you""--are the key to improving important relationships. Gathering poignant and uplifting examples from his palliative care work at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Byock shows how""these four short sentences carry the core wisdom of what people who are dying have taught me about what matters most in life."" (As the publicity sheet would have it, this is like""Every Day with Morrie."") Healing is always possible, Byock says, even after years of distance or rejection; he tells, for example, of a cold father who re-engaged with his family months before his death in a freak accident, and of a man dying of colon cancer whose gratitude for a good life made his passing less painful. This is important, inspirational stuff, but while Byock allows plenty of page-time for patients and their loved ones to explain the joy of reconnecting, little room is left for them to describe how they got to a place from which they could reach out. A caring counselor, or Byock himself, usually acts as the catalyst for healing in the cases described; it seems this book is designed to play the same role for readers, but there's no saying that things will go as smoothly as they seem to on the pages. Byock's enumerations on his ideas sometimes overlook the complexity of most lives:""Live each day as fully as possible"" might be a tall order for someone railing against a debilitating or terminal disease. Still, few readers will be left unmoved as they ponder their own and loved ones' mortality through Byock's fervent call to reconciliation.