In May this year, I was matron of honor at my sister Jessica’s wedding. While preparing my speech, I realized it was like writing a eulogy for the living.
It was an honor to have the opportunity to say in public, to all her nearest and dearest, what a great person my sister is. Not everyone gets that chance, as more often than not, we just go through the motions of life and say the bare minimum to each other.
Jessica’s maid of honor speech at my own wedding years ago made me cringe, and so did my father’s own speech. Not because they were awful; on the contrary, they were sweet and heartwarming and, yes, sometimes embarrassing. It was just that I sometimes felt like I was already dead and was a mute spectator at my life.
It made me see which parts my dad and sister chose to highlight in front of our friends and family. And, I remember thinking, was that it? I still have so much to do!
Among other things, my dad teaches ethics at the Asian Institute of Management. A quote he often used in his lectures was a Buddhist saying: “When you are born, you cry, and the world rejoices. When you die, you rejoice, and the world cries.”
Dr. Gallegos would then ask his class to write their own epitaphs. It’s supposed to make MBA students (who are supposedly on the verge of management greatness) reflect on how they would like to be remembered, I guess before all the worldly definitions of success are had.
It’s been over a decade since I wrote my epitaph in class and I’ve already forgotten what I wrote back then. But I suppose that, even with my life having changed a lot since, the spirit of how I’d like to be remembered would still hold true: to be known as someone kind, compassionate, honest, even as I haven’t been any of those at many points in my life thus far.
I was single then, a mother and wife now, and my own sense of self continues to strive for balance, as I inevitably take on additional roles: employer, neighbor, friend, maybe even grandmother if I get lucky to reach a ripe old age.
Every day I wake up and think that I am blessed with a new day to start over again and maybe be a bit better (more patient, more kind, more loving) than I was yesterday.
Harriet Beecher Stowe once said, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone,” which applies to the ones you’ve left behind. But in our context, this is a thoughtful reminder for us of our finite existence as well.
In the wakes and funerals I’ve been to, no matter how old the person who passed away was, people would always consider them to have “gone too soon.” Even when my 97-year-old grandmother passed away, it felt too soon for us who loved her.
I suppose that if I were to die today, I would consider it too soon, as I still would have too much left to say and stuff to do. I don’t know if there would ever be a time I would consider a “good time to go” enough to “rejoice, as the world cries.” Will the world shed tears? I wouldn’t care by then, I’d be dead.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle,” said Albert Einstein. I try to spot both the big and little miracles in my daily grind and remember to be grateful for them. But what about the people I come across every day—my son, my husband, our helpers, people I pass on the road—would they be grateful for my presence, too?
There are a number of shameful things I have done, things I shouldn’t have said, times that weren’t my proudest moments. But that’s all been done, I can’t undo them. What can I do about my life now?
Novelist Alice McDermott said: “None of us have much control over how we will be remembered. Every life is an amalgam, and it is impossible to know what moments, what foibles, what charms will come to define us once we’re gone. All we can do is live our lives fully, be authentically ourselves and trust that the right things about us, the best and most fitting things, will echo in the memories of us that endure. We are at the mercy of time, and for all the ways we are remembered, a sea of things will be lost.”
How would your epitaph read? “He had the best Candy Crush scores,” “She took the most ‘epic’ selfies,” or something more worthwhile? Spending too much time in our so-called “second life” in the digital world is wasteful and dangerously misleading.
Today, let’s make the effort to really reconnect with loved ones, make amends with people we’ve hurt, be mindful of good deeds we’ve benefited from and pay them forward. Right now, we can still be how we want to be remembered.