Remember Your Loved Ones, Not Their Hobbies


By Mark Allen

Executive Director and CEO, International Order of the Golden Rule

A carpenter named George lived in my hometown for many years. George possessed carpentry skills that were widely regarded as nothing short of amazing. When he passed away, many people who attended his visitation asked his family why none of the memorabilia on display depicted his talent for building. It would have been easy to display his worn saw horses, carefully-maintained tools and old coveralls as a tribute to the life he lived. His widow replied, “George wanted to be remembered for something other than his sanding technique and his ability to install electrical wiring in tight spaces.” Her comment caught me off guard at the time, but now I understand that even though he excelled at building things, carpentry did not represent his essence as a human being. At his visitation and funeral, his family chose to display symbols of his faith in God, his love for his family and his devotion to nature. They invited only those George cared about to participate in his funeral service. After the service, they gathered at a nearby nature preserve to share stories of how George impacted their lives. Imagine what a different celebration his family might have created had they not known what George truly valued in his life. If we don’t know how loved ones want to be remembered, we can mistakenly celebrate their hobbies, vocations or casual interests rather than the core values of their lives. If we could observe our own funerals, I wonder how many of us would be surprised at the rituals and objects our loved ones would choose to represent our lives because we didn’t take time to communicate what’s most meaningful to us. My friends know I have a passion for vintage automobiles, but that doesn’t mean I want a car-themed funeral. I’d prefer to have people bring dogs from an animal shelter to my funeral. Guests will have furry companions to make them smile and a few animals might find new homes. Talking about how we want to be remembered may feel intrusive to some people. We don’t want to burden those we love with details about our funeral preferences. But imagine the additional burden we place on loved ones when we fail to provide them with information that will streamline the funeral planning process and lead to ceremonies that help family and friends cope with their loss. Making your wishes known will make others’ lives easier and alleviate stress during their time of grief. That’s a nice way to be remembered.

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