Friday, October 25, 2013

What will they say about you when you die?

Perhaps I am a bit morbid, but ever since I was a teenager, I liked to read the obituaries in the newspaper. Our local paper put them on the back page, and it was the first thing that my mother read each day. My grandmother did the same thing, and I remember her saying quite often, “Well, today must be a good day; my name isn’t in the obituaries.” I grew up in a small town where ‘everybody knew everybody” and had a wide circle of friends and family. Later, while working in ministry I had daily contact with even more people, so it seemed like there was always someone that I knew that had died.

The habit of obituary reading stuck with me, and although I now live in a different part of the state and know a lot less people, I still read them on a daily basis. Now, however, it isn’t to see if there is anyone I know, but more to read about the lives of people that I never had the opportunity to meet. Often I read the beautiful words written about a stranger, and I marvel at the life he/she led. I read about hobbies, accomplishments, marriages, children, and grandchildren. I read about great contributions to society. I read about their legacy and about how they heroically dealt with struggles, wars, and illness, and how much they will be “missed” by loved ones. Sometimes there stories are remarkable; other times they are tragic. Sometimes the departed  have no survivors and I wonder if anyone will even notice that he/she is gone.  It’s amazing how many incredible people lived in my midst and I never noticed or knew. 

Likewise, I have attended literally hundreds of wakes and funerals over the years. Although often they are times of sadness and pain, I like to hear the stories and see the pictures that are often displayed at one’s death. I have heard stories of travels, family gatherings, acts of kindness and charity; I have heard of great contributions to the world and ways that he/she brought joy and love to the world. I’ve heard about ways in which the person ‘overcame tragedy” or “accomplished a goal.” I’ve heard about ways he/she helped others, put others first, lived his/her faith and how he/she made a difference in the world.   Ironically, I have NEVER heard things like, “he once lost a bunch of weight” or “when she died she wore a size 8”, or even “gosh, she really had a lot of money.” I never heard, “her mission in life was to weigh 150 pounds” or “be the thinnest person in the room.”  It seems that in the end, a person’s weight and pant size means very little and that the “numbers” that are most important in life…and death… involve the number of ways he/she helped others.

The habit of reading obituaries and attending funerals has helped me prioritize my life.  I have had the privilege of giving the eulogy for many loved ones and close friends. It is a blessing to be able to share the ways that the person has touched my life. I often wonder what others would say about me when I leave this world. I certainly hope that my weight loss isn’t a significant part of the eulogy, but rather a person talks about the characteristics that led to the weight loss; faith, determination, commitment and the ways I used my weight loss journey to help others and bring hope to the world.

Does this mean that you should eat that donut or order that pizza for dinner? Does this mean that you should skip the gym or light up that cigarette?  Absolutely NOT! I am not saying that at all. When I was 400+ I was unable to do much to help others. I could barely help myself. I was unable to do anything but go to work and try to survive. I was trapped in a world of emotional and physical pain and my ONLY focus was on myself, my own pain and survival. I was NOT making a difference to anyone. So YES, losing weight is important, because without doing so, I’d likely not be alive today. I wouldn’t have this incredible privilege of sharing my story. I wouldn’t get the many emails each day from around the world from people seeking hope and inspiration. I wouldn’t be able to do anything. So YES….put that donut down. So YES, work every day to reach your goals, whatever they may be. So YES, try each day to eat healthy food and practice habits that will lead to physical and emotional wellness, but don’t put all the emphasis on the scale or your waist measurement.  Be more concerned with being kind, being loving, being forgiving, and spreading joy whenever you can. Those are the things that will matter in the end. Those are the things that should matter NOW.

I’ve said many times to friends and loved ones that I want to live my life every day so that people will have something nice to say when I die. I wonder…..what would my obituary say?  What would others say about me when I die?  What am I going to say about YOU if I'm asked to do your eulogy?  How am I going to make a difference in someone’s life today?   Hmmm…… now that’s some FOOD for thought for me…..much more rewarding and satisfying than a donut!  How about you?   What kind of legacy are you going to leave behind…..if you were to die today, next week, or several years from now?  Life is short; start today!