A dear relative died a couple of weeks ago. Our family gathered for a few days, in the words of the pastor at the funeral, “to honor the life of” this great woman.
Something really interesting struck me as I talked to relatives and friends. Not only were many nice things said about the deceased, but many people talked about other relatives, how much they admired them, how they have changed over the years, and the great influence they have had on their lives.
I wonder. Why do we often wait until something like a funeral to reflect on and appreciate those around us? I wonder about something else. What would it be like to hear what is said about you at your own funeral?
The answer to the first question has to do with our mortality. Death reminds us we won’t be around forever and, especially at funerals, we remember people for the best they were instead of thinking about the things they did that irritated or troubled us.
While our family is living, it is easy to get lost in daily frustrations and history – I remember when ….
But upon the death of someone we care about, temporarily frustrating issues often end up in the file labeled “not really all that important.” Not always, but often. Rising to the top of our consciousness are the things that we always loved. We find ourselves remembering the times when the person came to our rescue or the positive example they provided for us.
It isn’t just about being nice at a funeral. It is more about the things that really matter.
I’m well aware of long-term hurts that can be very powerful even at the time of one’s death. But as I listened, I thought about how many opportunities I might have missed to encourage those loved ones in my life. Have I told my children I love them enough and how very proud I am of them?
Have I fully communicated to my in-laws what a blessing they have been to me all these years, treating me like a son from the beginning?
Have I communicated to my parents that I know they worked hard to be good parents? Have told them what good human beings they are? My mother is as pure of heart as anyone you’d ever meet, and my father is the most honest man I’ve ever known. These are just some of their qualities that might be remembered at their respective funerals.
And what would be said of me? Would people have a hard time coming up with nice things to say? Would the tears shed at my funeral be those like I saw last week, tears of devotion and love because of a good life lived? Or would the hurts that I’ve caused in others be so powerful that it would compound grief, knowing those pains would never fully heal?
I work hard at being an encourager, but I’m not sure I do it well. It seems awkward to say something nice to someone just out of the blue. To my closest friends, do you know how much you mean to me and how much I value the trust I have in you?
To my employer, have I communicated my gratitude for over three decades in a wonderful job? And to my clients and their parents, have I adequately conveyed how important your lives are to me and how much I cherish the trust you place in me?
If you knew you would die tomorrow, what words of gratitude might you have left unsaid? And what would be said about you? These are the questions of most importance.
At my funeral, I don’t want my legacy to be summed up with a comment such as “He liked to write a lot.” I do like to write and to do lots of other things, of course, but I would rather be remembered with words such as this: “He helped make lives better for everyone he encountered.” So that’s what I’ll work toward.
[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, certified professional counselor supervisor, newspaper columnist and public speaker. He holds an M.A. in Counseling and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Georgia State University and has taught at the college level for over 30 years. His website is gregmoffatt.com.]