How Do You Want To Be Remembered?

Do you ever read the donor plaques on park benches or under trees? I do – and I feel it’s a beautiful way to honor a deceased loved one. I came across this one the other day and it stopped me in my tracks:

It reads:

I breathe each breath with the knowledge that it has been built of the sea, and rainy days, the sun and earth of all time, and that my last exhaling breath will mingle with all the air, perhaps to carry a bird, or a chord of music. – L.J.C.

I found this so profound and inspiring – it made me wish I had known her.

This reminded me of an assignment my class was given in college. We had to write our headstone epitaph. I giggle when I think back to what I wrote:

“We’re here for a good time
Not a long time (not a long time)
So have a good time
The sun can’t shine everyday”

Kind of wise for a college kid, right? Until you realize that I simply quoted lyrics from a Trooper song. It’s probably not what I would choose now, but then again, I’m not eighteen anymore.

Do you ever wonder what people will remember about you when you die? I know it sounds morbid. But one of the most powerful exercises I did was write my eulogy. I got the idea from Grace Cirocco’s wonderful book, Take the step, the Bridge Will Be There.

After I wrote what I wanted my friends, family and business associates to say about me at my funeral, I felt a clarity I had never experienced before. When I reviewed it the next day, my values suddenly became crystal clear, my mission statement practically wrote itself, and I discovered my purpose. Everything seemed to click into place effortlessly.

I’ll never forget how enthusiastic and excited I felt – I was buzzing from exhilaration. I credit this exercise for playing a big role in leading me to the path I feel I was meant to take, and I’m grateful for it every day.

I encourage you to suspend your judgment and try this exercise. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but you may find the answers you’ve been searching for – answers to the big questions like:

-why am I here?

-what am I meant to do?

-how can I find meaning in my life?

-what is my purpose?

When you are doing the exercise, don’t worry or even think about the above questions. Instead, answer all of the questions below that apply to you:

What do I want people to say about me at my funeral?

  1. What do I want my children to say about me?
  2. What do I want my friends to say about me?
  3. What do I want my clients to say about me?

When I first began this exercise, I was uncomfortable with the feeling that I was bragging about myself. It helped to put myself in the place of the person giving the eulogy – as if he or she was the one speaking.

There will likely be a slightly different answer to each of of these, because we have different facets of ourselves that are brought to light depending on the relationship – i.e. personal vs. business.

I wrote 4 paragraphs, one for each of the questions above. To illustrate how it shaped my vision and put me on the path I am enjoying now, I want to share some of what I wrote. Keep in mind that this was written about 10 years ago, when I was restless, stuck and trying to find my purpose. It’s my answer to the question:

What do I want my clients and business associates to say?

Hellen shifted my perspective on life. She was never afraid to say what others might think but never voice. Her support and encouragement allowed me to live my life on my own terms and not sacrifice my short time here on this earth just to please others. She had a gentle way of sharing her wisdom. When she worked with me, she made me feel that I was her most important client. We connected and she got what I was all about. I trusted and valued her because she made me feel secure in the knowledge that she was not in it just for the money; she truly wanted me to succeed. She lit a flame in me.

When I reviewed this the day after I wrote it, I realized that my mission was: to inspire, motivate and champion others to embrace their uniqueness and recognize their value so they can make the most of their life. Naturally, this led me to becoming a life coach.

As for my new epitaph, well, I’m still working on that– and hopefully there’s no hurry.

What are your thoughts and ideas? Please comment in the section below.

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This post has 9 comments

  • sylvie says:

    wow… what an amazing article. Thank you… lots of food for thought…. I may use this as my New Year project ( a time of year I use to look back at the good and look forward to what I want to come ). Loved your eulogy. It really seems to fit based on my own experience, from watching you on tv, reading others comments on your blurbs. I hope it gives me as much clarity.

  • Evelyn Lew says:

    Dear Hellen –

    This is a very very interesting exercise.

    And it’s useful and important b.c. it focuses your attention on what is important to you (meaning everyone), and to point out to you now is the time to start putting what’s important to you, into action.

    Thanks for yet another helpful thing to do.

    Sincerely from Evelyn Lew.

  • Twila Peck says:

    The last thing I’d want someone to say about me is “She was a nice person, but…” Nobody’s perfect but I’d like to have the nice things people remember far outweigh and/or fully compensate for any qualifiers!!!
    Good news is, we can all work on this.

  • Arlyn K says:

    It is a subject that few wish to visit, so thank you for leading the way. On a humorous note, perhaps your epitaph will be “She was so NEAT!” (and I mean that in the best possible way).

    Personally, I’m sure I will be remembered for many years due to all the sparkly schtuff I will leave for my fellow dancers with which they can adorn themselves.

  • Gail says:

    Yes indeed this is an interesting exercise and one I’ve thought about, but was fearful of doing, now you have validated that idea.

    I will do it, jokingly, I have told people my ‘visitation’ plans, what I’d wear, and got a laught, but this is serious and would hopefully make it easier for those left behind who may want to voice thoughts but like me, afraid it will sound vain or boastful.

    My most important and happy purpose was to birth my two beautiful children and raise them to be the lovely compassionate people they are today as adults.

    We have to ‘blow our own horns’ sometimes….and gain the confidence that living should give us.

    Thank you for this plan…….

  • Val says:

    Hellen,

    What you wrote as your eulogy is how I think of you from your Neat TV show. You were always tactful, but firm in convincing your clients to let go of their “stuff” and to embrace a new way of life. You are awesome!

  • Elisa S. Lay says:

    I want the last stanza of my daughter’s poem that she gave to me on my 60th birthday. This would be my epitaph:

    “The sun is gathered in and carried to your depths,
    The sun is gathered in and shine out your pores,
    Translucent wanderer,
    Peaceful Warrior,
    Mother.”

  • Elizabeth Occhiuto says:

    Hi Hellen,
    I read the eulogy you wrote and after having recently been coached by you, I can say that I would describe you exactly like that. In fact, I could not find better words. Not after you have gone, but today …in life. You are inspiring, encouraging and you have lit a flame in me to start my journey. Thank you.

    We could all benefit from this exercise in order to see what is truly important to us, and help us shape our goals.