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How would you like to be remembered?

Sitting through the funeral yesterday was nothing short of brutal; one of the toughest hours of my life.

It’s not just about losing a friend. Of course that part is horrendous. But when it’s a friend who is your age, with a husband your age, with friends who are your friends, and children who are your children’s age, you cannot help but put yourself up there on that dais. Or worse, imagine your own children up there in the front row of chapel pews. Motherless.

I abused those tissues in my bag until they crumbled into stringy useless bits.

(I always underestimate tissue use at funerals. One day I’ll learn.)

God how I dreaded entering that funeral home. I stopped a block away, caught my breath, looked up at the glorious blue sky and wondered if I could do it. I willed myself to walk up those stairs, to trun the corner into the chapel, to plant myself in the austere pews in the comfort of old friends, forced to face forward and hear words I didn’t want to hear. And yet, I’m so very glad I did.

I had forgotten how these kinds of ceremonies often provide comfort. How there were so many points of wisdom in the thoughtful eulogies that help offer enlightenment and closure.

One of the most striking moments of the ceremony was when her own father described how anxious he was when Julie’s job took her to dangerous parts of South and Central America, forcing her to travel accompanied by bodyguards.

“You realize as a parent,” he said with remarkable strength and clarity, “that we often fear the wrong things about our children.”

It was lovely hearing person after person describe Julie’s optimism and kindness of spirit, her grace under the most heinous of circumstances for 21 months, her unwavering devotion to the relationships in her life, and her ability to effortlessly do it all.

It was unanimous: she was amazing. And she was loved.

However those of her childhood friends in attendance–and there were easily 40 or more of us–were all feeling the same thing. If you could have woven through the pews with a magic siphon and collected our thoughts, you would have seen us all grappling with our own mortality.

You just can’t help it in this situation–you put yourself in that coffin.

You think, what if it were me? Or, what if it were my wife?

And then you ask yourself, how do I want to be remembered?

Later at lunch, with ten amazing friends (thank God for amazing friends who can laugh with you as easily as they cry with you and don’t make too much fun of you for ordering a tequila shot with your wine), Sara brought up first what I know we were all thinking.

“You know, when they were describing how she always took care of her kids with a smile, entertained, volunteered, held down a high-powered job and and made it all look effortless…that wouldn’t be me.”

We all laughed. And agreed. Nope. None of us would be known for our effortless ability to do it all.

“They would say, ‘she was really good at calling the nanny on a Friday night,'” one friend quipped.

“They would say, ‘she always had dishes in the sink but at least she was fun,'” I added.

And we all laughed, as we assembled our imperfect obituaries.

I spent the rest of the night trying to answer the question in my own head. Wondering what people might say of me when I’m gone.  And whether I’d be okay with it.

Have you ever thought about it? How would you like to be remembered?

{ 32 comments… add one }

  • All Fooked Up 8.31.2011, 7:47 am

    We talk about it ALL THE TIME in this household. My funeral, the music i want played, what my kids are going to say in their eulogy…ALL OF IT.

    Probably because my parents died young and 2 of my daughters classmates died when she was 13 and then a few of her classmates parents died as well.

    Unfortunately, all my kids have seen death up close…so yeah, we talk about it.

    I must say…people won’t be saying such nice things about me though

    • Mom101 8.31.2011, 8:19 am

      Why don’t you think people will say nice things about you? Is it something you’d want to change?

  • Fairly Odd Mother 8.31.2011, 7:53 am

    I hope they remember the funny stuff at my funeral. That I spoke in pronouns way too often b/c I couldn’t recall the specific nouns (“give me that from over there”). That I used to wear rubber gloves coated in moisturizer to bed (and wondered why I was single). That I walked so fast, I always ended up leading the group even if I had no idea where I was going. Please poke fun at me, bring up my foibles, tell the silliest story you remember.

    Once, when something really awful happened (Liz, maybe it was the “Kevin” incident), I remember thinking, “Someday, this will make a great story”, and ever since then, I try to remember things as stories. I would love to have stories told at my funeral—not just the good ones, but the ones that would remind people that I was just a person, doing the best she could, even if she couldn’t remember all the nouns.

    • Mom101 8.31.2011, 9:15 am

      This is why I love you Christina. Truly.
      You are amazing.

  • Marci 8.31.2011, 8:10 am

    I think about that all the time when I attend funerals. I can only hope that I have lived a full life once my turn to be remembered comes around.

    Two years ago my next door neighbors (dear friends) lost their only daughter in a car crash. She was only 25 years old. She was like my first daughter; my kids’ babysitter. I was first to arrive at their house. As I stayed there that entire day, fielding phone calls and greeting visitors, I couldn’t help but realize that my house was a mess and truly embarrassing. Meaning, if there was a sudden tragedy and people descended upon my house, I would be mortified.

    I was pretty annoyed with myself for thinking that during those days. I had never realized how many people could show up. (There were a couple thousand at the wake; I had never seen anything like it) Anyway, this is one of those life experiences that I survived and once a day I try to at least get the main living area presentable to visitors.

    Again, I am so sorry for your loss.

    • Mom101 8.31.2011, 9:14 am

      Ironically, her family yesterday spoke about her door was always open to anyone, no matter whether it was clean, dirty, or there was food in the fridge or not.
      I thought that was kind of cool.

  • A Mommy in the City 8.31.2011, 8:42 am

    I don’t ever really think about it, but maybe if I did more than I would change some of the things that I do in my life. If we realized how short life truly was, would we do things differently? This post has really put things into perspective for me. Thank you. Ultimately what I would like to be remembered for is being a loving mother and wife. One that would selflessly do anything for her family and friends.

    So sorry for you loss.

  • Jill 8.31.2011, 9:04 am

    Hey Liz,
    My father died suddenly nine years ago and days later there I was eulogizing him. You can solidly categorize me as a “weeper” so it was a task I never imagined I could do. Once I started writing it, it came pouring out. The funny stories, the odd bits about his childhood, his dedication as a father — you know it was easy to capture things that were so dad that I had never thought about before. I only cracked at the end with the “I love you, dad” part, in an odd way, the rest felt like an honor. So after that, I don’t worry. Someone you have loved well will do you proud. And even if they mention your dirty dishes, it will be with love and affection, and that’s all that matters.

  • Tinne from T and T 8.31.2011, 9:34 am

    I’m so sorry for you loss.
    Personally I can’t bring myself to think about these things, I always break down in tears

  • Julie Marsh 8.31.2011, 9:53 am

    I think one of the toughest aspects about publicly emotional occasions is the perceived propriety of suppressing those feelings. If we could sit and sob openly without embarrassment, we might feel less dread.

    At our wedding, many friends and family members led toasts, not just the best man and maid of honor. There was a lot of remembering and laughter and a few tears. Almost fourteen years later, I have three children and dozens more wonderful friends with whom I share great memories. I would hope that remembrance of me now would be a continuation of the toasts from our wedding, preferably with similarly fabulous catering.

    • Mom101 8.31.2011, 10:09 am

      So lovely Julie. I know I would have a lot to say about you in a toast. Heh.

  • jenny 8.31.2011, 11:46 am

    This post was so moving. I’m constantly imagining worst case scenarios and that image of the motherless children in the front row is one of my big ones. What a beautiful reminder for all of us to live the way we want to be remembered: smile more, frown less, stop obsessing about the dirty dishes and get down on the floor to play hide and seek. Throw great parties and forget about who might be catching glimpses of the dust bunnies under the couch. Off to squeeze my kids now. So sorry for your loss, Julie sounded like a wonderful person. We would all be lucky to be remembered with so much love.

  • Allison 8.31.2011, 12:31 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. I attended a visitation on Friday for a friend who suddenly and unexpectedly lost his dear sister of 42 years to a heart failure. I have unfortunately attended two other funeral for friends whose lives were cut much too short in the past few years – but this was the first one when we had kids. And I must admit, my reflections afterwards were much different than before. What do I want to do, be remembered for, what imprint to I want etched in my kids memory for them to carry with them through life. Do I take enough time to enjoy the present. Do I relish in my kids energy and pure innocent joy enough. Do I focus on the right things. I guess I didn’t think about how I’d like to be remembered, but more about how I’d like to live better while I am here.

    Thanks for sharing the personal story of your friendship and your loss.

  • The Dalai Mama 8.31.2011, 12:35 pm

    Facing our own mortality is difficult and made even more difficult by the feelings of loss that flood us when we see someone so close to ourself being put to rest. It happens less when those who are older die.

    I hope to be remembered for who I am and the contributions I made to the lives of those who I loved. I hope my students remember me for being not just their teacher but their champion. I hope my children remember me not just for my parenting, but for my love of them and life. I hope my husband remembers me for the woman who blossomed before him. I hope my friends remember me for being that–a friend.

    We touch people everyday in a multitude of ways. I hope to be remembered.

    • Mom101 8.31.2011, 4:42 pm

      Not a teacher but a champion. Wow. I’d take that.

  • Lisa 8.31.2011, 12:57 pm

    Oh Liz,
    So sorry about your loss. What a tough, tough place to be in and awkward in the “we weren’t close, but knew each other for a really long time” part too. I’m sorry for your loss and in a weird way am glad that you had an opportunity to think about mortality too. (I know that sounds odd, but I think the questions are important).

    How to be remembered? Mostly, I think I want to be remembered as real – not always positive, but always honest laced with kindness. If I’m that, I think the love will show through. If I’m that, maybe I’ll have made a difference.

    • Mom101 8.31.2011, 4:40 pm

      I think that’s a terrific answer, Lisa.

  • Issa 8.31.2011, 2:03 pm

    Liz, I’m very sorry about your friend. I think when someone dies, we all come up with the best thing we can say about them. Because we feel that’s the right way to go. It’s the smaller things though, that really make a person.

    I can’t think about this too much, it’s just too hard. I’d want my kids to know how much I loved them. That in the end, would have to be enough.

  • Babs 8.31.2011, 6:26 pm

    I don’t care too much about how I’ll be remembered. But I do think about how I’d remember others and what I’d regret not doing or saying. Too many sudden losses left me wishing I’d been more. However I’m remembered, I plan to have someone read a note from me that exonerates anyone who has those regrets. I do not wish to leave by burdening people with any extra sadness.

    • Mom101 8.31.2011, 9:43 pm

      Thank you Babs. I’m wondering, if I may – whether you have children.

      • babs 9.02.2011, 5:00 pm

        Yes, I do. I don’t really worry about their memory of me because my dad lost his dad young. His dad wasnt perfect, but i can see that little-boy adoration in my dad still. I feel sad at what we’d miss together and how they’d wonder what I thought of them. I write them love notes and keep them for when they are older, but my husband knows where they are if the worst happens. I guess I have faith that the best of me will bring them joy and the worst will give them laughter. That’s usually how my memory shakes out once I get some distance.

  • Ron 8.31.2011, 8:50 pm

    Hi Liz, nice to meet you. First time commenting.

    Beautiful post! And I’m very sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.

    My biological mother passed away from cancer six years after I was born (she was only 40). And even though I was very close to her because I was the youngest of three children, I truly cannot remember a single interaction I had with her while she was still live. I know I was very young when she passed away, so perhaps that has a lot to do with it. But I still think it’s odd that I can’t remember a ‘time’ with her.

    However, what I will tell you is that I can remember what our LOVE for one another felt like. Even today, at 55 years old, I can still feel it.

    So, to answer your guestion….

    I would want to be remember for my love.

    Because it’s everlasting.

    Thank you for sharing this post.

    • Mom101 8.31.2011, 9:44 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing Ron. That’s beautiful.

  • Alexis 8.31.2011, 9:26 pm

    I can’t believe Julie died. I don’t think I’d seen her since high school, but eight year old Julie is planted firmly in my memory, and I can’t believe that that person is no longer on earth. It all feels like yesterday. So very sad.

    I hope that people remember that I loved my family and friends, and tried to be kind to everyone. Also, that I had an encyclopedic knowledge of pop trivia that I never truly found a use for on earth. I wonder if St. Peter likes to play Trivial Pursuit?

  • Marinka 9.01.2011, 8:17 am

    I hope that people will remember how much joy I took in my children, and how proud I was of them. And how much I loved Bravo.

  • Emma 9.01.2011, 8:33 am

    I think about how I’d like to be remembered all the time (or rather, how I don’t want to be remembered)… not when I’m dead but by my kids, when they are older. It’s what drives me to try and be a better, more present, less yelly mother – I don’t always succeed, but I really don’t want my kids to remember me as not being interested in them or being cranky all the time.

    I’m really sorry about your friend.

  • Carrie 9.01.2011, 1:00 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. I haven’t been through the loss of a friend, but can only imagine how hard it is and how much you question your life, mortality and everything around you.

    I was thinking heavily about this at the beginning of the year when my great aunt passed away. I delivered her eulogy and was having a hard time articulating it. A couple nights before her service, all of who she was came to me – selfless and content. It really made me think how remarkable such simple traits are and how much I wanted to actively work to be better while I can. You know, not miss people’s birthdays or special days and be happy with my life as it comes.

    Hopefully from this tragedy, at least for yourself, you’ll come out of it with a better sense of purpose and strength. And you’ll encourage your daughters to take that first jump into the pool :)

  • Jennifer 9.01.2011, 8:25 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss! I’ll have to think about this -it’s a good question.

  • Marta 9.01.2011, 9:03 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. =/

    I do often think the same question. I frequently think it when I go to work and waste away my day in a job I hate for a boss I often want to murder. No one will remember my spreadsheets, or my willingness to help on a project. Furthermore, I don’t want to be remembered that way. I want to be remembered as an amazing mother, as a great friend. As adventurous and fun. I can’t imagine being called those things when I spend most of my days locked away in a cube and when I get home I am too defeated to be all the things I want to be.

    I often think, that I could be so much more than I am.

    • Mom101 9.01.2011, 10:04 pm

      I am not religious at all, but I have always loved the quote “God does not judge us for the job we have, but for the job we do.”

      Substitute whatever noun in there makes you feel comfortable.

  • Nicole Feliciano 9.02.2011, 8:31 pm

    We’ve had far too many funerals this year. sorry for your loss. As for me, I’d like to be remembered for inspiring those around me to live life fully. And for my sassy sense of style (which by the way, would not include that atrocious JCP tee).

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