Every Life Has Meaning
By Christine Pepper
Chief Executive Officer, National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA)If you’re like me, chances are you caught the movie It’s A Wonderful Life during the recent holiday season. In the familiar story, George Bailey grows up with big dreams of traveling the world and becoming an architect. But life, as it often does, intervened and, following the death of his father, George steps in and takes over the family’s building and loan business. He settles down, marries his sweetheart and has four children. He never leaves his hometown or becomes an architect but, by the estimation of most, George lives a good life. On Christmas Eve, we find George and the Bailey Building and Loan on the brink of financial ruin. Overwhelmed by his current situation and, looking back on his abandoned dreams, George believes he is a failure and thinks the world would be better off if he hadn’t been born. George’s guardian angel Clarence grants his wish. As George wanders through his hometown, he sees that it’s no longer the idyllic place in which he’d grown up; the world without George Bailey is full of squalor and vice. The friends and neighbors who led good lives were struggling because George Bailey hadn’t been there to help them when they needed it. George begins to understand that his seemingly unimportant existence was actually quite important. George implores Clarence, “I want to live!” Clarence restores things to their natural order and George returns home to his family and business knowing that his life was important and wonderful. I think most people are a little bit like George Bailey. Our parents, grandparents and other loved ones don’t realize the impact that they’ve had on lives. (In fact, I’m not sure I fully understand the ways in which I’ve touched my family, friends or co-workers.) Deep down, most of us – myself included – want to know that we’ve made a difference in the world and that we mattered to someone. While we may not have a Clarence in our lives who can offer the kind of transformative experience that George Bailey experienced, we can use the Have the Talk of a Lifetime materials to start a conversation about what matters most. Having the talk isn’t a one-way street. Yes, you want to allow your loved one to share their life story with you. But you should also take time to tell your loved ones about your memories of them. The family celebrations you’ll always remember … the advice and life lessons you carry in your heart. Fond memories of your mom or dad helping you learn to ride a bike or how to bait a hook … the guidance your grandfather or grandmother offered when you were contemplating life after high school … and the delicious chicken soup your aunt or uncle made whenever you were sick. Having the talk is an opportunity for you to be a “Clarence” to someone – to let them know how much you love them and that your life wouldn’t be the same without them. It’s a chance for you to thank them for all they have done so that they, like George, can understand that they do matter and that life is, indeed, wonderful.