I stopped by to pay my respects to her family. She had passed way too soon at 59. It was cancer, a killer that had found a foothold in her ovaries, then invaded everywhere else.
She was friend who had gone out of her way on more than one occasion to perform a selfless kindness for my family and me. And she did these niceties with no expectations. There was no anticipation of a reciprocal act of graciousness. She was generous and thoughtful because she could be.
She was the kind of person who had 17 best friends. She made everyone she met feel special and welcome and comfortable with her big, bright wonderful smile.
In the heat of the summer, her visitation at the funeral home began at 4:00pm. And when I arrived shortly thereafter, the line serpentined from her husband and children in the viewing area out into the hallway to the back wall of the parlor, reversed and lead out the front door and into the parking lot, wrapping around to the far side of the building. Canopies were set up to provide some relief from the heat for the dozens of people who waited patiently outside.
Nobody who knew her expected anything less than this heartfelt and overwhelming turnout. The crowd included family members, friends, work colleagues, and customers and acquaintances from her business career in health insurance and then later as the owner-operator of a boutique. She was an active member of the local business community, and her soul was fed by serving others.
She was constantly in motion, working hard for long hours and with passion. She had closed down her store about three months before she died. Her son was to be married next month, and she did her absolute best to hang on to see her boy begin his adult life with a beautiful young lady and the perfect in-laws. But she didn’t make it. When she missed the wedding shower, we knew her time here was almost over.
She never let anyone outside of her immediate family know how scared she was, how much pain she felt and how the fight was taking everything she had. She abhorred the idea of appearing weak, so she simply stopped communicating with everyone. No responses to texts, emails or phone messages. I mentioned to a friend that it would have been a gift to be able to tell her to her face how special she was. But that kind of attention and emotional goodbye was exactly what she wanted to avoid.
In her last days, as always, she was focused on the needs of others. She selected the funeral home where I was now standing for two reasons: first, it was owned by a friend who needed the business; second, she knew that the exposure her visitation would bring to the business represented an opportunity for the funeral director/owner to shine – to be seen as a viable option to the half dozen other funeral homes in the area.
Pushing aside the lump in my throat and the hole in my gut from the sorrow for her family’s loss (and ours), I began to marvel at the size and makeup of the crowd, and I was reminded of Stephen Covey’s funeral exercise. As a component of Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, his “Begin with the end in mind” chapter includes the funeral exercise. I won’t provide a completely comprehensive explanation here, but the exercise consists of imagining that you’re going to a funeral. You begin to feel that sense of sorrow and loss you’ve experienced at other family funerals, but at the same time you’re encouraged by the warmth and support of people who have come to celebrate the life of the person who passed. Then you realize the person who died is actually you.
Take a moment to listen to Dr. Covey describe the exercise here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KIZK_3hbqM
There will be four speakers at your funeral: an immediate family member, a friend, someone from your place of work or profession, and someone from your church or community organization where you were involved in service.
What would you like each of these people to say about you?
What kind of husband, wife, son or daughter were you?
How would your friend describe the type of person you were?
What character would you like to these people to have seen in you?
What did you contribute? What did you achieve?
The bottom line is what difference would you like to have made in these people’s lives?
As I stood in the funeral home that July day thinking about my friend and meeting so many of hers, I understood that she was indeed familiar with Dr. Covey’s exercise.
And what a difference she had made.