What really matters at the end of our lives [The 4 Things That Matter Most book summary]

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The Four Things That Matter Most

Notes from ‘The Four Things that Matter Most’ by Ira Byock.

Four simple phrases — “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you,” and “I love you” — carry enormous power. In many ways, they contain the most powerful words in the English language.

‘Please forgive me’, ‘I forgive you’, ‘Thank you’ and ‘I love you’ are important to say to people we care about, even if we might think that they are already implicitly understood.

We can often hang on to grudges unconsciously, creating distance and eroding joy in our relationships, without realizing what we are missing as a result.

Any relationship can be fixed, and transformed permanently – it is never too late.


  • Nobody’s life is perfect, and there will always be regrettable memories, which we wish we’d handled differently at the time.
  • We are all fallible human beings, but all nonetheless worthy of love and acceptance, just the way we are.
  • We must come to terms with our mistakes, and accept ourselves, warts and all, rather than pretending to be something else, because if we don’t feel worthy of love and acceptance in ourselves, we will reject them when they are offered to us by others.
  • Forgiveness is not the same as exoneration: forgiveness accepts the past for what it was, without necessarily excusing it.
  • If we do not address issues with someone we’re close to, they can continue to haunt us even after the other person has died, and though it is possible to achieve resolution after the event, it is much easier and more powerful to do so while they are still alive.
  • People hurt each other out of insecurity and defensiveness, and if we fight fire with fire, we just perpetuate the cycle, whereas if we instead choose to forgive, we can generate healing on all sides.
  • Even if others fail to respond in kind, we will be able to feel good about ourselves, and rid ourselves of any lingering guilt regarding our part of the story.
  • Treating people with love and compassion is cathartic for both sides, and when our turn comes to be the one needing to be cared for, it serves everyone’s best interests if we can switch roles and allow others to take care of us.

Thank You

  • Everyone benefits when we express and accept appreciation without restraint.
  • We shouldn’t do good deeds solely to receive thanks, but there is no need to reject appreciation simply to prove the point.
  • If we cannot accept thanks, we will struggle to express them too.
  • Life is short, and if we remember to really appreciate it instead of taking it for granted, we can infuse every moment with joy.
  • Defences push people away, and make them become defensive too. It only takes one side to change the dynamics of a relationship, and it is never too late to do so.

I Love You

  • There are many ways to communicate love, and if events of the past make saying the actual words too difficult in certain circumstances, then the door can be opened by way of a letter or recorded message, or a tender touch.
  • Life is precious, and we should try to live it as fully as possible, in love and gratitude.
  • Remembering that life is temporary can free us from false pretenses and pointless strife in our lives, and open up space for intense joy instead.


  • A well-said farewell to a loved one, whether we are the one leaving or one left behind, can turn the sadness of parting into an epiphany of love and appreciation.
  • The need to say goodbye can give us the strength to undertake arduous journeys or even delay death until it has been satisfied.
  • Saying farewell is much easier if we have made the Four Things part of our relationships, and our loving goodbyes can even outlast us if we leave messages to be opened by our loved ones at specific events in their future after we are gone.


Byock, Ira. “The Four Things that Matter Most”, Simon and Schuster, 2004

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Penny (PennyButler.com)
Penny (PennyButler.com)

Truth-seeker, ever-questioning, ever-learning, ever-researching, ever delving further and deeper, ever trying to 'figure it out'. This site is a legacy of sorts, a place to collect thoughts, notes, book summaries, & random points of interests.