Every so often, if we’re lucky, we’re handed a wake-up call. My latest was on the weekend, at the memorial service of a beautiful woman, Marlene – and the occasion taught me six important things about living.
Get in front of the camera more
I seem to have nearly 8000 photos on my computer. I’m in maybe 50 of them. I’m nearly always behind the lens or, if I’m dragged in front of it, I’m grabbing a child or two to hide behind, because I’m ‘not happy with how I look right now’ the way I was not happy with how I looked when I weighed 10kg less, which was similar to how I felt when I was 32 and a size 10.
The slideshow of images shown of Marlene at the service was full of photos of her looking ‘real’ with her family, which they now have to treasure and remember her by – just as she was. Just as they loved her. I won’t leave my kids scrambling to picture what I looked like – so that’s resolution #1.
Create, create, create
Marlene was an artist and designer and the church was literally draped in her creations. Everywhere we looked, there were her pieces. Pieces of her. Things into which she’d poured her heart and mind. Tangible reminders of who she was and what she loved and how she thought.
I’m not ‘artistic’ in the same way, but I do love to write. Others cook, or paint, or build or make music or sew or indulge in the myriad other ways that we can leave our mark on the world and, if you haven’t found what you love to create yet – keep searching. We don’t need to be brilliant at it – but to leave something we made, that loved ones can hold is really priceless.
Do it now, regardless
When she was diagnosed with a chronic health problem Marlene was given around 10 years to live. So she enrolled in university. A degree and another diploma later, she continued learning and expanding her mind for the 25 years that she lived after her initial diagnosis. My favourite photo in the montage shown at the service was of her receiving her second degree in a wheelchair.
Sometimes things seem hopeless, and we wonder whether we’ll bother, because ‘where is it going?’ and ‘what is the point?’ Sometimes the point is ‘just because’.
You need more for your eulogy than your CV
At every funeral I attend (which, sadly, currently outnumbers the weddings!) I notice this: Someone who loves the person who died, reads a eulogy in which professional achievements usually figure.
They tend to hold it all together while they read through the more ‘CV-ish’ aspects of the story of the person’s life. It’s only when they get to the ‘heart’ stuff that they seem to struggle to maintain composure, and it happens every single time.
- She was compassionate.
- She made the best Christmas lunches.
- She was always there for her friends.
- She was funny, and confusing and irritating and dependable and gave amazing hugs.
- We loved her, we loved her, we loved her.
At the end of the day – our lives tend to be remembered more like a trailer for Love Actually than as a job application. Achievements are good. They can be mind-blowingly impressive. But life, when it’s stripped right back, is about much more than that.
Say what you need to say
All the ‘best’ funerals are the ones where there’s little regret. They’re the ones where the family and friends had a proper chance to say goodbye. But it’s rarely about ‘saying goodbye’ and nearly always about saying ‘what you need to’, when you have a chance.
And that’s right now.
It’s not ideal to be ‘scrambling the jets’ to get there at the very last second and blurt it all out with a person who is struggling to be alive, who may rather you just sit there, holding their hand. It’s even worse to lose the opportunity altogether. Just say it all now.
It’s all ‘small stuff’
We delve into angst, often over things that just don’t matter. They don’t. End of story.
So I’m off now, to take some selfies with the kids and tell my parents how much I totally get how hard it is to raise children, and thank them for doing that, then write more of my novel and enjoy the sunset and Downton Abbey. Because I can. And that’s an immense privilege.