I have often spoke of lessons I have come to appreciate only in reflection years after they have taken place. This story is about one of those lessons. I recall the odd habit my grandfather had of reading the obituaries. Not just glancing at them, but reading them. When I pressed him as to why he did what I considered an odd habit. His reply was that as he grew older, that was the only time he heard about or from friends. “Some people only make the paper when they die.” This is lesson number one. Don’t make the only time you make it into the paper be when you die. This is not to say we should try to chase fame and fortune for the sake of being famous. It also doesn’t mean we should try to appear in the police blotter, a part of the paper we should really try to avoid. The point here is to try and make an impact while you are living. You don’t have to change the world, just change some lives. Be a positive difference for the people you encounter. Make an impact in your community. Support local businesses, get to know your neighbors.
The other thought that occurred to me was how little we keep in touch. Especially as we grow older, this becomes more important. Although, at any age we never know when someone we love can leave us. Send more greeting cards. Pick up the phone just to say “Hello”. Send an email to let someone know you are thinking of them and how much they mean to you. If those sort of sentiments make you uncomfortable, realize they can’t see you behind a keyboard. One of the positives of modern technology. Keep in touch with people. Create memories that will last a lifetime, and maybe even beyond!
He also mentioned something else I would like to share with you. He said with a wry smile that every time he didn’t see his name in the ‘obits’, as he called them, was a day he was grateful to be alive. It was also a sign that your work wasn’t done he reminded me. How sad is it that many of us spend our days noting what is wrong with our lives instead of appreciating that we have one? It seems all to often that the only time we stop to appreciate life is after we lose someone close to us. It is my belief that we need a reminder everyday to appreciate the life we have, even with all of its imperfections. Perhaps reading about all of those poor souls who wouldn’t be getting up that day was his way of reminding himself to be grateful for not being among them.
This habit of looking at the notices of people who have passed away is a good reminder of our own mortality. We should do our best to think of what we want to be remembered for. Do we want to be remembered as a good family person? Will we be remembered as a pillar of our community? Will they say that we always were eager to lend a helping hand? Are we living that life right now? If not, how can we do the things we know that we should be doing? What will our legacy be?
Even something that may seem as morose as reading the obituaries, can be a source of both motivation and inspiration. We do not have to wait until we lose someone we love to realize the value of our lives. We don’t have to wait to make an impact until we pass away. It is never too early or too late to start thinking about and working on what our legacy will be. Listen to the stories of your elders, they hold hidden wisdom you may only realize years later.