The eulogy exercise: how do you want to be remembered

It was an odd dream. I had arrived at the funeral service late and the pews were filled. I had to sit in one of the chairs hastily lined up for overflow.

“The passing of the years awakens in our hearts the cry for permanence.”

— Frederick Brotherton Meyer, Baptist pastor, author and evangelist in England

It was an odd dream. I had arrived at the funeral service late and the pews were filled. I had to sit in one of the chairs hastily lined up for overflow. I was so far back that I couldn’t see the family. Though I could only see the backs of people’s heads I thought I recognized some of the attendees. The music ended and the minister began talking about good works and salvation. I hoped this wasn’t going to be a long and drawn-out affair like some I had attended.

“Quite the crowd,” I said to the woman sitting next to me.

“Pardon me,” she replied, seemingly puzzled by my comment.

“Quite a few people,” I said. “I mean, a big crowd for a funeral.”

“He was well-respected,” she answered. “He helped a lot of people.”

“Of course – of course,” I responded. “Helping people is a good thing.”

Someone shushed me so I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms. The minister welcomed the deceased’s best friend to the stage to deliver the eulogy. It was my best friend. That’s when I realized that I was the deceased. The funeral was mine and I sat bolt upright in my bed.

Have you ever stopped to think about your death? Ever pondered what people might say at your funeral? What would you like them to say? How would you like to be remembered?

Some people consider contemplating one’s own death a spiritual practice. A Buddhist monk would suggest we examine it with each and every breath. A Cree healer of my acquaintance recommends pondering our death twice a day – upon awakening and before falling asleep.

Now before you question my sanity for choosing what some might consider an uncomfortable topic for a self-esteem column, allow me to explain. I believe that all things can bring us awareness, and that includes openly and honestly contemplating the end of our existence.

When we can acknowledge – without fear or trepidation – that our time here is limited, we can choose to live each day to the fullest. We can stop procrastinating and rationalizing and get down to business. We can own our life and begin making the changes we know intuitively need to happen and that includes becoming awake and aware – components of healthy self-esteem.

The goal is to become aware of how we’re spending our time, with whom we spend our time and how we can best work toward becoming authentic, focused individuals. We can willingly ask the hard questions like whether the way we’re living is contributing to our happiness, helping us to learn grow and evolve, or if it is keeping us stuck in a destructive, victim-focused mentality.

By contemplating our death, we learn to identify beliefs, values and perceptions that no longer serve our greater good and detract from our life’s purpose. Contemplating death gives us permission to live our lives more authentically – in the now – with passion, compassion and purpose. When we finally acknowledge that death can come at any time, we can see that life is infinitely precious. This can provide us with a feeling of freedom and personal responsibility that can lead to a life filled with beauty, connection, purpose, joy and gratitude.

I’m going to share with you an exercise that I recently discovered and one that I found to be life-changing. Yes, I’m going to ask you to write your own eulogy. Here’s how it works.

Unlike my dream, I’d like you to consciously imagine that you’re at your funeral. You look around and see that all your friends, family and colleagues gathered for the occasion. It’s the part of the ceremony when loved ones speak a few words about you – when they share stories, observations and insights.

One by one, they stand behind the podium and share with the attendees what they most admired about you. They talk about your personality traits, the funny and amazing things you did and the ways you made the world a better place. What exceptional personality traits you embodied through your life. People nod. People laugh. People cry. It’s powerful. It’s moving.

Now, come back to the now and think about what you really want people to be saying when your time comes. How do you want to be remembered? What do you want to be known for? What do you want people to say and think about you as they attend your funeral service?

Here’s the challenge and here’s where the shift can occur for you as it did for me. Ask yourself, “Am I living my purpose? Am I following my dreams? Am I living a life that is rich, vibrant and joyful, or am I simply drifting along – living on autopilot – deluding myself each day?”

As an example, I’m going to share with you what I wrote down.

When I die, I want people to say, “Murray was a man who followed his dreams. He faced his fears, stood up for himself and worked hard to be a positive influence in the world. He consciously tried to help others and, in doing so, made the world a little better place for having been here. He was a great role model. He lived with enthusiasm, passion and integrity. He had a kind word and smile for everyone. He loved his friends and family and told them so often.”

“For all sad words of tongue and pen,” wrote influential American Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier on the topic of human potential. “The saddest are these: it might have been.”

Be who you’d like to be. Start today. Don’t leave your greatest achievements as a “might have been” – a great yet squandered possibility. Live a life that is worthy of an inspiring eulogy.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca

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