How will you be Remembered?
“It pains me to admit it, but apparently, I have passed away.”
So begins the pithy obituary Emily Phillips self-penned, which appeared in the Jacksonville Times Union following her death on March 25, 2015. The obituary goes on to capture the life – and humorous personality – of Mrs. Phillips in a way that let even perfect strangers know that she had lived a well and full life.
Phillips isn’t the only one who was interested in making her obituary read like an adventure novel instead of a death knell. Readers of Mary “Pat” Stocks’ obituary may have found themselves giggling more than crying. “She left behind a hell of a lot of stuff to her daughter and sons who have no idea what to do with it,” it reads just two lines in. The obituary also decries the cause of death as the 94-year-old carrying her oxygen tank up a flight of stairs to get to her bedroom the night before.
James Groth made what can only be described as his final sarcastic comments via his self-penned obituary following his death on July 28, 2015. Among the other things he shares about his life, Groth notes that he died knowing that “Monty Python and the Holy Grail was the best movie ever” and that his regrets were few, “but include eating a rotisserie hot dog from a convenience store in the summer of 2002.”
None of these obituaries, or countless others crafted in a similar fashion, leaves the reader with the impression that these folks died without making an impact in the world. They likely would be remembered for the kind of fun-loving people who made friends and family laugh in both life and in death.
If you were to die tomorrow, how would your obituary read? Would it be the kind of funny, lived-a-good-life experience readers get when they look at the obits of Phillips, Stocks and Groth? Will people remember you as the person who never wanted to get off the couch long enough to spend time with them, or will they weep that the wild adventurer they know and love has taken his final exploration?
Creating a Legacy, Not Excuses
It can be human nature to procrastinate. We often feel like there will be time tomorrow to do the things we don’t really feel like doing today. But the fact of the matter is, we don’t know when our number will be up.
If you want to take that trip to Alaska that your extended family has been inviting you to go on for years – but you always make excuses as to why you can’t – stop making excuses and go. If you want to go on that mission trip to Ghana with your church family, but have been hedging because of the cost or time off from work, stop overthinking it and just do it!
Creating a legacy isn’t just about how you will be remembered once you’re gone. It’s about teaching friends and family members to value what is most important in life while you’re still with them. Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I want my family and friends to remember most about me?
- What life lessons do I want to pass on to my children and grandchildren?
- What mistakes have I made in my life that I want to help future generations to avoid?
- What family traditions do I want to pass on to the next generation?
Once you answer those questions, take a look at what is most important to you, and then compare what you want to teach with how you are living your life. What adjustments need to be made to ensure you are leaving behind the right kind of legacy?
Another exercise – although it may sound morbid – is to sit down and write your own obituary. Once you are finished, take a look at what you’ve left behind. Fewer things can make more of an impact on how you live your life than seeing what it looks like to others on paper.
In 1864, Alfred Nobel opened a French newspaper to read his own obituary, in which he was referred to as the “merchant of death” because he was the inventor of dynamite and other armaments used during the Crimean War. An error on the part of the paper – which had accidentally published Alfred’s obituary instead of his brother’s obituary – was a stark wake-up call to Nobel. His extreme unwillingness to be remembered as a purveyor of death prompted him to set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Foundation. It is this foundation that annually bestows international awards called Nobel Prizes to individuals who have made a significant impact in the areas of culture and science. Say his name today, and Nobel Prize is what most people immediately think, not “purveyor of death.”
After you write your obituary, read over it and then ask yourself the following questions:
- If I died tomorrow, would I be happy with how I’ve lived my life?
- Am I satisfied with the direction my life has taken?
- Am I happy with the legacy I am creating?
- Is there something that is missing from my life?
- Is there some way I can make my obituary more complete?
Whether you choose to do one or both exercises, take some time to thoughtfully consider what you have learned. Then, craft a legacy guide that outlines the things you want to accomplish before you die. Don’t just make a list of the things you need to do. Craft a plan for how you will accomplish each of those items, along with a timeline for completion. Then, get to work!
Care to share your legacy with us? We’d love to hear about it in our comments section.