It’s a bit morbid, but write your own eulogy now. No, you’re not dying, I hope, but the problem with being mortal, if that’s what you are, is that it can happen any time. Write down everything that your kids would say about you at your funeral. What would your wife or co-workers say? Those words are what you believe that they would say about you. Now write what you really want them to say about you. Is there a difference? Do you see some discrepancies? What’s missing in the narrative? What do you need to do to repair those relationships? What words and descriptions of your life would make you proud if you heard them? Now, even if you’re not a writer or an author, write down your own eulogy. Are there similarities to your kids’ speeches? These writings will help you realize what you want to do when you grow up, what you need to do before you die, and to re-evaluate your priorities. In five years, repeat the process. Maybe you should collect all of these writings and have your family or friends publish them posthumously.
Be a funeral crasher. Or maybe not, but attend the funerals of people that you know even tangentially. I attended a funeral for a man whose children repeated his oft spoken phrase, “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” It reminded me of the importance of counting one’s blessings, to realize how important is was to stop complaining about things that one cannot control or change. He forever changed his family’s life by reminding them how beautiful their lives were. In addition, it’s fascinating what family members and clergy say about the deceased. Eulogies are meant to be true but complimentary. In Judaism, you’re not allowed to say anything bad about the deceased unless it’s something funny like “my dad used to sing me to sleep but he had the worst voice ever.” That phrase “too blessed to be stressed” resonates in my life now. Fifteen years ago, it may not have resonated because life was simpler and a different kind of stressful. Today, with the crazy, happy and complicated life that I’m living, it’s easy to become stressed out, but why should I be stressed. I have three beautiful children, an awesome wife, and I’m living my dreams. I truly am too blessed to be stressed.
As clergy in various synagogues for over 15 years, I’ve learned a great deal about how to live a happy and healthy life through the time spent with the deceased’s family before and after the funeral. There are several questions that clergy are taught to ask to delve into what made their loved one special. Did she volunteer in the community? What did she do for a living? Was he involved in the synagogue community? What would she say was her greatest accomplishment? Did he have any special hobbies? What were her favorite sayings? Anything funny to relate? The rest of the information is found in the storytelling of the mourning family. When you sit back and listen to stories, you are forced to internalize their messages and learn more about living a happy, healthy and successful life.
There is great tragedy when you lose your 99 year old grandmother and when you lose your 54 year old mother. I’ve lost both. Sure, they’re different, but still immensely tragic. You never stop feeling the loss. Two of my children are named after my father and mother, of blessed memory, but nary a day goes by without thinking about how they shaped my life. After almost 10 years, when I have a question about a huge life changing event, my hand starts moving quickly to my phone to call my father, of blessed memory. However, I can dip into my memories and interpretations about how my parents, of blessed memory, would have dealt with a particular situation. I don’t have the luxury of a hologram recording of my parents’ advice like Star Wars, nor do their incorporeal spirits visit me in any visible form. Use the stories of mourners to help you learn how to live a balanced and happy life. Their stories will also help you remember your personal stories of your deceased relatives.
There is a recurring theme found in the Jewish prayerbook with the words, reviving the dead. The belief in the coming Messiah, that will bring peace in the world and will revive the dead, is still strong in Orthodox Judaism and still has connections with Conservative Judaism. Yet, if we pause in our traditional translation and rather look at ways that one can help revive the dead, we see that our memories and stories about our deceased revives their memory and legacy in our lives. My father, of blessed memory, still lives in my life. He is not corporeal, but his presence resonates in all that I do. Especially during very dark days, I imagine what my father would say or do. By being part of the conversation and hearing the eulogies of the mourning family and clergy, you are helping to revive the memories of their deceased relatives.
So, when you have an opportunity to pay your respects to the deceased and comfort mourners in your life, drop everything else that you’re doing. The experience will enrich your life with knowledge and wisdom. Besides, bringing comfort to those who are mourning will bring greater peace and reward into your life. Begin writing your own eulogy.