I go to funerals. I think it shows respect for the deceased, and for their family and friends. So if I know someone who dies, I try to go to their funeral, whenever I can.
I try to find some meaning in the act of attending funerals. Years ago, I read a quote (I think it was by M. Scott Peck) who said “the meaning of death, is to add meaning to life”. I go to funerals, and I look for the meaning in them. I look for the value and the purpose in the lives of the deceased.
Stephen Covey wrote a best seller called “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. He wrote about living a meaningful life. In one chapter, he suggested that the reader should write his/her own eulogy- the eulogy that the reader would want someone to be able to deliver at their funeral. The purpose of the exercise, was to determine if there are any gaps between the eulogy someone would deliver now, and the eulogy the reader wanted to be delivered.
In other words, if I want someone to say that I was a great guitar player, I better start taking guitar lessons.
If I want someone to say that I was a great husband and a great father, I better start being one. Right now.
What do I want my life to look like?
I went to a funeral in November for a man who had been very ill for much of his life. He had been admitted to hospitals over 100 times. He had experienced organ failure and organ transplantation, failure of several joints, and multiple joint replacements. I thought that he experienced a lot of hardship. But he didn’t see it that way.
At his funeral, his son noted that, on his deathbed, he said to his wife “didn’t we have fun?” He meant it. He found a way to have fun, in the presence of his experience.
His family played a recording of him singing “Amazing Grace”.
I went to a funeral in September, for a friend I knew for 25 years. This man also experienced a lot of hardship in his life. He developed hepatitis, and the treatment was sometimes as difficult for him as the disease.
Yet no one ever described him as “suffering”. He helped a lot of people through their hardship. He found a way to squeeze every drop of fun and laughter out of life. His brother-in-law is a baptist minister. The minister noted, in his eulogy, that my friend used to attend the services that the minister would deliver. And my friend signed the guest log at the church with names like “Joe Bag O’Donuts”, or “Albert Einstein”, or “Tom Hanks”, or whatever celebrity name came to mind. My friend liked to laugh, and he liked to help other people laugh, too. Even in church, he liked to laugh.
People laughed a lot at that funeral.
An uncle of mine passed away in December. He and my aunt would host a birthday party every year, for their son (my cousin), and I. The party happened every year in December. Every year, about an hour into the party, a touch-football game would start. The game would continue until too many of us hurt ourselves too badly to continue.
One of his sons eulogized my uncle by saying that he didn’t like being the center of attention. He preferred to “shine the light” on other people. In memory of my uncle, we had a memorial touch-football game in his honor, to shine the light on him.
We laughed a lot during the touch football game. I think my uncle would have liked that.
I visit my mother’s grave from time to time. She is buried in a section of a cemetery next to my mother’s mother and my father’s mother. When I go, I pay my respects to my mother and my grandmothers. Then I walk a block or so to another set of graves, where the parents of one of my cousins is buried.
After that, I look for the grave of a fellow I don’t know. I don’t even remember his name.
What I do remember, is that on his stone, his relatives described him as a “mensch”. “Mensch” is a yiddish word, and it means “a person of integrity, high character, and honor”.
I have never heard anyone describe themselves as a mensch. I don’t know why- it isn’t done. You don’t call yourself a mensch. You can only be called a mensch by other people. And this man led a life that allowed his relatives to call him a mensch, and carve it in stone.
Well done, sir.
I hope that someday, in my eulogy, someone can describe me that way.