Yesterday, I attended a beautiful and moving memorial service for the husband of a long-time family friend. Afterwards, we all gathered at her brother’s house for some food and drinks, as is often the custom after such services, so that family and friends can comfort each other and share stories and memories about the one they have lost. I’m sure most of us have been to several of these gatherings, but there was something especially touching about this one. The toasts and tributes were so heartfelt, the memories were so special and the sense of loss so deep, that there was no doubt that my friend’s husband was not only a very special person, but was also dearly loved but all who knew him well. Clearly, he had left a powerful legacy of goodness, tolerance, and love.
Afterwards, I couldn’t help but wonder how different our lives might be if we thought just a little bit more often about how people we will remember us after we are gone. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve attended a funeral or memorial service, people don’t really talk about the sort of things that seem so very important to us as we live our daily lives. No one mentions what car the deceased drove, how much money he made, how she always looked ten years younger than her actual age, what advanced degrees he earned or what a prestigious job she held. Sure, some of that information might make it into an obituary or be a part of the life story shared during the service, but when the time comes for people to share their own memories of their loved one, that’s not what they talk about at all.
In the personal tributes and toasts, people talk about the real gifts that their loved one gave them. They talk about how he was always ready to listen to their problems, without judgement, and without jumping in to offer quick and easy advice. They talk about how she always made time for them, no matter how hectic and stressful her life happened to be. They talk about the good examples he set by the way he lived his life, or how she had the courage to follow her own dreams and encouraged others to do the same. In short, they talk about the important things, and not the inconsequential stuff that occupies far too much of our attention.
I have always been taught not to worry about what people say about me (easier said than done), and I understand that is meant to be good advice about not letting other people’s opinions dictate how I live my life. But I’m beginning to think that it’s a good idea to consider what people are going to say when I’m gone, and how they are going to remember me. Am I a positive and encouraging influence on other people? Am I helping others when they need it, and not just when it’s convenient for me? Will anyone be able to say, honestly, that I left this world just a little bit better than I found it?
The beautiful tributes and heartfelt toasts I heard yesterday are the kind that can only be earned by living our lives as fully and compassionately as we possibly can. And I can think of no better way to be remembered, and no better legacy to leave behind.