A few weeks ago, I had a really turbulent yet eye-opening day.
I was scrambling around during the morning as I had a deadline to meet. Next thing, my wife calls me around 1pm. Now this is strange, as my wife NEVER calls me in the middle of her working day as she really can’t as she’s a nurse on a shift.
I immediately answer as I assume that something is wrong.
“Hi! Are you coming?”
“To Uncle Ant’s* funeral! I told you about this last night. You don’t have to if you don’t want to as you never met him, but I need to know as I’m approaching the freeway turnoff!”
“Uncle Ant died??!!!”
I’ll leave the conversation there. It was a massive wake-up call. She had told me a week ago and due to a combination of travel fatigue and self-absorption of my own business deadlines, I didn’t actually register with the fact that he had passed on. More concerning, she had mentioned to me the evening before that she was going to his funeral, but yet again, I was on another planet. My heart sunk as I took on this ‘new’ information.
I reacted as any decent husband would have done. I cleared the decks, threw on a shirt and ran outside just in time to catch a ride to the funeral. En route, I sent a few texts/emails and cleared the rest of the day and dropped the deadlines. They weren’t life-threatening, after all.
Putting someone else in your own shoes
Because I was hurried for time, I was wearing jeans and a check shirt. It did get me thinking, though; why do people wear black to funerals? It seems as if it’s some sort of uniform that people are socially conditioned to do rather than the colour black being associated with showing respect or necessarily with that person.
While I appreciate that it is related to a religious tradition, it still poses an interesting question, why?! I really don’t mean to cause offence; I really am asking a valid (in my eyes, at least) question that leads me to my next point.
Plan your funeral.
You heard me, plan it now! If we are afforded the option of witnessing our own funeral, would you want your nearest and dearest to be clothed in black simply because that is ‘the socially acceptable thing’? Maybe you do, and that is fine – it’s YOUR choice! All I know is that anyone wearing a suit to mine, I’ll personally eject them (via some sort of metaphysical energy of course).
But what music would you want? Where would you have it? What should people wear? What readings would you want?
It’s actually not as morbid a task as you may think. Funerals should be the posthumous CELEBRATION of someone’s life. Thinking about funerals – and hence, death – might actually help us to think more about life and how we could be better living it and the legacy we want to leave.
An important question
While I didn’t meet Uncle Ant, I did find myself asking another important question.
Why do we wait for funerals to tell people in a public space how much we not only love them but how much we actually enjoyed their company and how they made us feel?
We relate stories either at the funeral or on social media of the times that the person in question made us laugh, cry, dance, sing etc. But why only when they’ve passed?
As I sat there that day at the funeral for someone I’d never met – and that’s a whole other story as we should have made the effort to see him as we knew he was ill – it was obvious that this is not a unique situation to me. This is happening daily to all of us and we really ought to do better. My wife and I had ‘spoken about’ meeting up with him and had ‘every good intention’ to do so, but quite unforgivably, we never got around to it.
I looked at the raw grief of his family and listened to their stories about how he had made them feel, and I felt incredibly remorseful about not meeting him. But it was simply too late.
If I had my time over again, what would I have done?
Apart from actually prioritising the time to see the person, belly-to-belly, here are some simple things I encourage you to do:
- Every morning, how about sending a friend or loved one or even an acquaintance a text or email or Facebook message or Linkedin recommendation thanking them or recalling a story that put a smile on your face or meant something to you?
- Or you could spend a bit more time and write them a letter on this awesome site, Karma, that a friend and his brother have put together. How good would it feel to receive a letter about you in a good light? How good would it feel to send one to someone else?
After all, eventually telling someone at their funeral how you feel about them is perhaps too late.
Living in the now
The above friend also referred me to a video by Sam Harris, a well-known neuroscientist. It reminded me of a video I saw recently and a book I have been told to read, The Power of Now, by Echart Tolle. Whether you agree or disagree with Harris’s general sentiments about life and religion, I think the video is still worth a view.
* pseudonym used for privacy of the person and their family