I realize it has been just a few weeks since I wrote a blog with the word ‘death’ in the title. I guess I have been doing way too many funerals lately. Whenever I get a wave of people passing away around me I begin to get a bit focused on it. It comes out in my preaching and people wonder why I am always talking about death and dying. Sure I will also tell the requisite jokes about it… but it is still a bit morose.
There is one question that I am constantly reminded of when I am in funeral mode like I have been rescently. What is the one thing that really matters when you are lying in that coffin (or increasingly more frequently an urn)? The car you drove, the house you owned, the money you made and even the success you had… none of it matters at that moment. Oh sure there will be plenty of time for the vultures to swoop in and fight over your car and jewelery later, but on this day, none of that matters. The only thing of real value that we leave behind is not material at all, but rather how we enriched the lives of the people that our life touched while we were alive.
I am fond of telling folks to plan their funeral now. I am not referring to the coffin, the flowers and the tiny little sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Who really cares about any of that? Give me a homemade pine box and bury me in the backyard under the dog house for all I care. The funeral business is a racket. They are trained to make you believe that the way to honor the dead is to put you in a rosewood coffin with pearl handles and drive you around in an expensive limousine. If I wanted to go for a limo ride I would do it now when I can at least see the view and play with the power windows.
No, I am talking about planning what people say about you at your funeral. It is that brief few minutes where someone stands up and tries to catch the essence of who you where that really matters. What we did with our life will be summed up in how we impacted the lives of the people around us. That is our only true legacy.
Several years ago I did a funeral for a man I had only met once, in the checkout line at Zellers. That says alot about my values too doesn’t it? When I interviewed the family and asked what kind of man he was, the only thing they could think of was that he was ‘hard working’. No one was willing to do an eulogy and I had to put together a funeral for a ‘hardworking man who shopped at Zellers’. It was not my finest work.
On Monday I buried Uncle Norman. Norman was born in a log cabin in a remote part of Manitoba. They had no electricity or running water. Norman never went to even one day of school. He could not read or write for his entire 71 years. For most of his adult life he worked at the car-wash. Ten years ago when the car-wash closed their doors he was unable to get work since he had no marketable skills and he had to go on welfare. For the last 8 years he lived in the basement of his nieces house. He never even drove a car, let alone owned one. When he passed away last week his niece was able to gather all his worldly possessions into one single box. My goodness, when I die my family is going to spend weeks throwing out boat and car parts that I have stored in my garage for vehicles I don’t even own anymore.
But here is that part of Norman’s story that you don’t want to miss. For his funeral I thought we would have a dozen people show up. I was surprised that the chapel was almost full on a Monday afternoon. Then person after person got up and told of how Uncle Norman enriched their life… how he brought joy, laughter, goodness and kindness to everybody that he met… how what little he had he would gladly share with others. The expression; “He would give you the shirt off of his back’ was used, because that was literally all that he had. I was really taken aback by how this simple man who had zero earthly accomplishments; no possessions, no awards, no diplomas for anything, had made such a difference to the people around him. That day put many things into perspective for me. I realized I am way too caught up in the things and the cares of this world.
How we live our life and the impact we make while we were alive comes out in the brief moment when we are lying motionless in the coffin. For me people might say, “Well this is the first time Mark has ever been in front of a crowd… and had nothing to say.” It is at that moment when your actions will have to speak for you. Better start planning that today. Because in the end, death becomes you.