In the past few weeks I’ve been to two funeral/remembrance services for amazing people who were in their prime when they died.
The first service was for the partner of a colleague. She was the head of a primary school and was always full of life, very sporting, active and an inspiration for her colleagues. During the service we heard how she had progressed in her career from a new graduate to becoming one of the youngest head teachers. Along the way she’d apparently learned the art of “delegating upwards”, had persuaded her local authority to send her on a creative writing course in New York (she lived in the UK) amongst many other achievements.
However, what was abundantly clear in this service was the love that everyone who attended had for her. She was enthusiastic, passionate about her school and her pupils and had a great sense of humour. I was convinced that she was leaving a legacy of passion and commitment and would be remembered with great love and affection by everyone who had contact with her.
This got me thinking. How would I be remembered when I’m gone? What would people say about me? Would I bring happy memories to peoples minds as they talked about me?
It made me question what I’m passionate about now. Where do I put my energy? Do I give to other people of my time/knowledge/enthusiasm? Am I living each day to the full?
The second service was for a man who I’d had the privilege to work with when he was first diagnosed with cancer 3 years ago. At the time he’d been given less than a year to live and we ‘d agreed that was ” not acceptable”. We worked with diet changes, supplements, acupuncture, visualisation alongside his conventional medical treatment. The cancer cleared and when I last saw him, nearly 2 years after his initial diagnosis he said “life was wonderful and he was going to get on with enjoying it.”
He did just that. His life had been dedicated to the environment and ecology. He’d founded a conservation charity and a company which helped protect natural environments and species from the consequences of industrial development. He went to the USA and continued with his work there on a global level.
Sadly, nearly 3 years after first becoming ill, the cancer returned and within 3 months he passed away. His service was so well attended that there was not enough space for everyone to sit. His life and work had touched and inspired so many people. Again, what came across was the passion and enthusiasm he had for his work, which was communicated eloquently to others.
The service closed with the song by Heather Small, What Have you Done Today to Make You Feel Proud?
Food for thought indeed. Am I making sure that every day I do something that makes me feel proud? Can I say that as a human being I’ve done something that has added value to other peoples lives?
Every day of their lives, these 2 people lived their purpose and their passion. They both contributed to others and to the world they lived in. They’ll both be remembered by many many people with love and affection.
I wonder how many of us can say that we’ve done something today to make us feel proud. It might mean just doing something extra, unexpected that helps someone else. It could be doing a job well, telling someone you’re sorry, or letting someone know you love them. I think it also means being true to yourself and living with purpose, passion and belief in yourself.
What have you done today to make you feel proud?
The day after writing this piece, the work of Bronnie Ware came to my attention.
In her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”
Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Bronnie:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
What’s your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?