The friends I went to school with and I aren’t exactly spring chickens anymore, but we are too young to have parents dying. Quite simply our parents are too young to die yet. Our parents should have a lot of years left in them to be the matriarchs and patriarchs of our young families. Our parents are mostly still working and with their years of experience, making valuable contributions to the business world or workforce as well as playing vital roles in social groups and spiritual communities.
Unfortunately in the last two years or so I’ve attended several funerals for some of my friends fathers. This has been sad because these wonderful men have been recipients of sickness and disease that has fleeced my friends of years with their Dads that would include watching grandchildren grow up, shared family events and support from their father’s as they embraced various aspects of their lives. And they will now always miss the comforting hugs that Dads always give that somehow make you feel like you can accomplish anything.
Yesterday I went to the funeral of a classmate’s Dad. In fact, from the family of six, I spent quite a bit of time with four of the six kids during my school and youth days. They are a terrific family, and from the funeral yesterday I was reminded that it was because of their Dad and his input into their lives, that helped contribute to the wonderful adults that they are today.
When I am at a funeral, it often reminds me of my own mortality. It makes me stop and consider what my life means to other people and what type of imprint I will leave on the world. What will people say at my funeral? What will my epitaph be? I don’t consider it at all morbid to reflect the impermanence that is our time on earth.
I used to ponder what I would like written on my epitaph. When I was a teenager, my Catholic high school had a cemetery within the school grounds. It was generally in the out of bounds area, but on the odd occasion, (I can’t remember why), we were allowed in the cemetery. I love wandering around cemeteries, reading the plaques and headstones and musing about the lives of those whose bones lay below the surface. Likewise I can remember enjoying a morning exploring the crypts at Westminster Abbey. My favourite memorials are those who give you a hint, a glimpse, a feeling about the person that was. As you read the words on the cold stone, suddenly there is a shiver running down your spine, a flash in your imagination, a connection of a person who once lived, breathed, was loved and made a difference during life’s sojourn.
And so from time to time since I was young, I have considered what I would like recorded about my life. I have sometimes composed various phrases. I can’t remember what they were, because it never seemed adequate. At one stage, when struggling with infertility, I realised that to just have “The loving wife and mother of …” would at least mean that I had not gone to the grave with a hollow ache, the persistant pain and constant yearning, strong desire to be a mother.
That wish has come true. Well, thankfully, not the headstone yet. But one day it will be recorded in stone that I was a mother. For now, I AM a mother. It motivates me to make life even more meaningful.
To be truthful. I will always be thankful to God that when I leave this earth, my greatest legacy will be my children. I never dismiss the extraordinary privilege and honour that I have been granted to be a mother.
As I sat in the funeral yesterday and listened to the tributes of a life lived, I realised I don’t want to write my own epitaph. I heard friends and family talk lovingly about a man whose legacy was his faith and his family. And I thought, really, is there anything more important in life to leave behind? I concluded that this was a fruitful life indeed.
When I diem, I want those who love me dearly to pause and reflect on my life and record a few words describing what I was. I hope that they will compose something that will give a hint, a glimpse, a feeling of the person that I was. There are three things I hope this will give the reader of my tombstone a reason to meditate upon my grave. Something about my family, something about my character and most importantly, I hope that my spiritual life defines who I was a person enough that it will be recorded forever. That even in my death glory can be given to God.
Do you ever wonder what your epitaph will be? Or do you know what you would like written in memory of you? What reflections do you make during and after funerals?