No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is the very single best invention to life. It is life's change agent.
-Steve Jobs Stanford University Commencement Speech June 2005
Yesterday, my day started at a funeral and ended at a child’s birthday party. Both experiences were, for lack of a better word, enjoyable. Life-affirming, maybe? I have always been an avid obituary reader. I love the writer’s skill in summing up an entire life in 400 words or less. The healthy husband who cared for his ailing wife of sixty years than died within hours of her. The woman who wrote thousands of thank you cards, including one to the hospital worker who prepared her last breakfast. Every ordinary person sounds fascinating in their obituary. It always makes me wonder what I will be remembered for?
You have heard of wedding crashers? I felt like a funeral crasher yesterday. It was a service at the local Unity church for a 70-year old woman I have never met. I went to show support for her daughter. It struck me that no one talked about the woman’s accomplishments. There were no resume items listed off. Instead, there was story after story about how this woman made others feel. It was the time she took to help someone figure out a computer program or the recipe she shared with a co-worker’s wife. It was how she made a new person feel welcome or the recognition she gave to someone struggling to do their best. It was the way she talked about her daughters and grandchildren that made others feel hopeful that their own parents talked that way about them. It was her love of music and books that she shared freely with friends. It was her undivided attention she gave to whoever she was speaking to. I never met this woman, but I would like to be like her.
Buddhists contemplate and meditate on death as a way of recognizing impermanence. They use death as a reminder of the fleeting nature of time to help them live life to the fullest. Some Tibetans are even encouraged to visit cemeteries to eliminate fear of the inevitable.
Knowing this tradition made me feel a little less weird about my lack of sorrow at the funeral, even my irrational thoughts that maybe I should “crash” funerals more frequently. But it did not prepare me for my four-year old daughter’s questions. In the car on the way to the birthday party, she asked me why I had to die. Would I still be her mommy when I died? She said she didn’t want me to die. She didn’t go with me to the funeral, by the way. In fact, I didn’t even mention to her anything about it. So not sure how she picked up on it. Than later after the birthday party, she had a friend come over to play. They were running in circles and my daughter joyfully yelled, "I am dying."
What do you want written in your obituary?