My mom is the sixth child in a family of twelve, so my grandparents' fiftieth wedding anniversary many years ago was quite an affair. Most of us were really excited but I remember my younger cousins being petrified of coming to church. Why? They weren't Christian and their only encounter with any of type of priest or minister was the fire and brimstone preacher in the movie Pollyanna, shouting, "Death! Comes! Unexpectedly!!!!"
While the anniversary mass wasn't nearly as scary as my cousins had feared, I've thought of that movie preacher those three words about death many times. Unfortunately, I've recently been reminded of it again.
Over the holiday weekend, I was doing some research and reading for a leadership discussion I'm about to facilitate and I revisited my notes on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the most powerful books I've read. In it, when talking about the "Begin with the end in mind" habit, Stephen R. Covey suggests imagining your funeral and what people would say about you.
I came across the statements I had written when I first read the book (I'm guessing it was 5-7 years ago), including: "Christin always made me feel better about myself and the world in which we live" and "Christin found the positive in every situation and took each challenge as an opportunity to both learn and teach."
They struck me as particularly poignant because earlier that day I had been reprimanding my kids about the mess in their rooms and in other areas of the house. So much for making them feel better about themselves or finding the positive in the situation. I read the statements out loud to my husband and kids and said, "I need to do better." I set an intention to add statements and also to work harder to make statements I had already written come true sooner rather than later. Because you just never know...
Then I went to work the very next day, only to be greeted by the news that a relatively new colleague had died suddenly a few days before at the age of only 46. Stephan was VP of Consulting at a nearby survey firm with whom our company was looking to partner on some business opportunities. He was vital and passionate and caring and funny and one of the most interesting people I'd met. It looks as if I wasn't the only one who thought so.
Here's what I noted in reading Stephan's obituary over and over again. Though he had an impressive career, his obituary is not about accomplishments. It is about priorities. The people he was closest to knew he was there for them. So taking the sentences I had written years ago and tapping into the habit of beginning with the end in mind, I'm working on writing my obituary, one that reflects what matters most to me.
Death often does come unexpectedly. Consider what changes you would make if you knew your time was near. Write your obituary to reflect who you want to be.
Then live in such a way that makes what you say true.
Photo by Simeon Muller on Unsplash