Saying goodbye means saying hello to life
I’ve attended three memorial services during the past three months.
The first memorial service was for a 56-year old college friend that I haven’t spoken to in nearly 30 years. A deranged gunman killed him at the Capital Gazette. Another was for a founder of a non-profit organization I currently work at. I only met him once while attending an employee’s retirement party. He died from of congestive heart failure and kidney failure at the age of 86. And the third was for a 35-year old woman I never met. She was brutally killed while jogging near Logan Circle in Washington, D.C., not far from where some of my friends live and work.
I attended the services for different reasons.
For my old college friend, I attended his service at the University of Maryland College Park Chapel out of a sense of guilt. I was ashamed that I didn’t stay in touch with him all these days. And given how he died, and the fact that many of his old college buddies were living far away and couldn’t attend his service, I felt I had a moral obligation to be there, representing not just myself, but all his colleagues who worked with him at our college newspaper.
For the second service, I attended out of a sense of obligation. I knew that most of my co-workers would be attending his ceremony, and I didn’t want to be conspicuously absent. Also, I wanted to say thanks to the man who started an organization that I enjoy working for.
And for the third service, I attended because I was shocked by the violate way the young woman died. The streets she jogged were the same ones I’ve walked along over the years. I also have a friend who worked with her, and I wanted to honor her life by attending the candlelight evening vigil for her in at Logan Circle. Frankly, I felt a little embarrassed about attending her service since I didn’t know her, but I’m glad I went.
I’ve attended other memorial services in my life, but not so many in such a short period. I suspect as I get older, I will be attending more services because my friends, co-workers, and relatives will eventually die.
All the memorial services I attended seem to have a common theme.
First, we learn that the recently departed were all good people who cared about their family and friends. We see their photos and videos on display from earlier and happier times.
Second, they all seemed to be pursuing their goals and dreams in life. Or, they are on track to having a fulfilling life.
And finally, they left a lot of grieving people behind. Sobs are heard, and tears are visible.
They say that funerals or memorial services are more for the living than the dead. After all, once you’re dead and gone, you’re not going to be around listening to your loved ones talk about you. Unless of course, you believe in ghosts or spirits roaming the Earth. And depending on your religious beliefs, you think they are in heaven, hell or someplace else on the “other side.” Or, no place at all.
Every time I leave a memorial service, I must admit I’m a little envious of those who died because they seem to have led wonderful lives. Family and friends give touching eulogies. We hear funny stories.
In the memory of the dead, I always say to myself that I’m going to be a better person. I vow that I’m going to be more courteous to my co-workers and family. I make a private commitment to myself to expand my circle of friends and contact ones I haven’t spoken to in years.
I worry about what people are going to say about me at my memorial service. Will I have good attendance? Will I achieve my goals before I’m gone? Will all my rights outweigh all the wrongs I’ve done?
But then….reality begins to set in.
Bills must be paid.
The mortgage payment is due.
And time gets eroded with too much work, too long commutes, and too many errands.
Soon, I’m right back to where I was before with the same old life, doing the same old things with the same old attitudes.
But slowly, I’m beginning to change. Just a little. Because with each memorial service I attend, the more I know my time will be up.
Death is coming. Soon? Later? Who knows, but it will happen.
In one of Steve Jobs most famous quotes, he said “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”
With each memorial service I attend, I’m reminded of death. You can’t hide from it.
Just when you think everything is going well, and your meeting your bucket list goals, you’re gone. Finished.
And when you’re gone, are you going to care what people said about you at your service, or are you going to care about what you did with your life?
Only you can decide.
What have I learned from attending memorial services?
That life is too damn short to live in the past and to worry about the future. Today is the only sure thing you have. Because as Rachel Joy Scott once said, “Tomorrow is not a promise, but a chance.”
So, take a chance, and do the best you can every day.