The 3 Things You Want Said About You at Your Funeral
I speak at a lot of funerals. And I attend many more.
While some people may think it would be awful to go to so many funerals, I’m almost always moved when hearing about the impact of someone’s life and being with a family at a pivotal moment.
Some funerals, like the last one that I conducted, take on an ethereal quality. There’s a holy hush that descends on the gathered loved ones, with tears of joy and laughter close together.
But other services are difficult to witness and lead. Relatives have a hard time saying good things about the person, or maybe even struggle to be in the same room with each other. Sometimes there is a sense that the person being eulogized was selfish or unkind — but the family gets through it because, well, that’s what you do.
So I’ve been thinking recently: what kind of life makes a funeral meaningful?
What makes some services so special — true celebrations — while others are so painful?
I believe it has everything to do with the life of the person. The right kind of life leads to a joyful memorial, even if there’s great sadness. That kind of life extends to a system of relationships that speaks volumes about the person. The words shared make a kind of final “amen” on a life well-lived.
What will people say about you at your funeral?
Here are three things that I believe make for a whole-hearted, significant life, things that you should want said about you at your funeral.
First, you want people to say that you had a great passion.
You lived with a big heart. You had a great love as you walked the earth. You poured yourself into someone or into a big dream.
Someone once said that everyone is searching for one great love. That’s why Jesus taught the greatest commandment: “You shall Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
Jesus directed people to embrace one great love, to have a passionate heart for God.
How about you? Do people know your great passion? Do you?
We all know people who live half-heartedly, fearful, gripping what they have so that they won’t lose it. Funerals for those people tend to be sad (and poorly attended).
But funerals for people who live with passion are a joy to celebrate.
Second, you want people to say that you had a people.
You invested in others. You found joy in serving your family and your community. You were part of something bigger than yourself.
When people stand up and talk about your life, it may be mentioned where you went to high school and college, about your career, and the highlights of your success. But what people will remember is the way that you made a difference in their lives.
Everybody needs a people. Everybody needs a family to look after them, whether biological or among friends.
Are you devoting your best hours to the people you love?
Third, and finally, you want people to say that you lived with purpose.
Everyone has a purpose. Everyone has a gift, a talent, a skill that shouldn’t be wasted. You don’t have to be perfect. But are you using what you have been given?
Martin Luther King, Jr., once shared these challenging words:
“…If you have never found something so dear and precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live. You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause.”
“And you refuse to do it because you are afraid. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab or shoot or bomb your house. So you refuse to take a stand.”
“Well, you may go on and live until you are ninety, but you are just as dead at 38 as you would be at ninety. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”
Some people are already dead; they just don’t know it. They stopped caring, stopped crying, and stopped struggling a long time ago.
But that doesn’t have to be your story.
You have a purpose. Do you know what it is? Because that’s what they’ll talk about when you’re gone.
They’ll say, “He gave his life helping kids in the inner city,” or “she volunteered all of her spare time to help pregnant teenagers,” or “he sold everything and went to Haiti to help rebuild houses.”
Or maybe they’ll say, as I frequently hear, “She was always serving,” or “she loved her grandkids and sacrificed for them,” or “she taught school for 35 years.”
A passion. A people. And a purpose. That’s what makes for a resounding “amen” echoing across time.
What will they say about you?