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Living Memorably

This past weekend I had the privilege and honor of attending a living memorial for a dear family friend. This was my next-door neighbor when I moved back to India at the age of 9. Having been raised in North America for most of my early childhood, I was astounded by the openness in which I was greeted when I moved back. There are too many memories to enumerate, but I just knew I had to be present for the end-of-life memorial. This living memorial was the very first I had attended, and I was unsure what to expect. Unexpectedly, this was one of the most incredible experiences I have had in recent memory.


There is something inexplicably beautiful about embracing one’s mortality and when you have the privilege and ability to do so, the impact of this is immensely profound. In this event, the family had intentionally decided to have this event in lieu of a funeral.


Sitting in this beautiful garden surrounded by the dying person’s loved ones was nothing short of a profound and memorable life experience. People from different phases of this person’s life were there to bear witness to the life they had led. There was a lot of laughter, but also a lot of tears. To me the most awe-inspiring part of the night was when the dying person said goodbye to all of us. I have never quite seen or experienced something like this in my life.


We live in a culture where we shy away from our own mortality and the mortality of others. Aside from traumatic losses that occur that are sudden and intractable, celebrating a life well lived is still something rare and rather elusive.


Ever since I was a young person, I have been rather enamored by mortality. It’s not because of a lack of desire to live. In fact, it’s the exact opposite, my awareness of my mortality has helped me thrive in a world that at times, feels impossibly sad and incredibly complex. When I was in my 20s studying to be a psychologist, a professor in one of my classes had us write our own eulogy. It would seem strange that a young and healthy person in their 20s would write their eulogy but it resulted in becoming one of the most significant experiences of my life.


Since writing my eulogy in my 20s, I have gone back and practiced this exercise repeatedly and when friends and clients are willing and able, I encourage them to do the same. You may ask, what is the purpose of such a morbid activity, and I would emphatically answer, so that you may live!


This is the exercise I purpose you engage in (when you are ready) as it can be emotional.  The questions can be whatever you want them to be, but these are just some suggestions.


1.        If you were to die today, when will you die, who would you like to read your eulogy, and how would you like to be remembered?

2.        What did you fight for and what were some of your obsessions and passions?

3.        Each of us carries a wisdom we hope to impart on others. What was yours?

4.        What made you unique and special? What were some of your challenges?

5.        How were you as a friend, partner, parent, child, etc.? How did you connect to others and yourself?

6.        What brought awe to your life and what were those crystallizing life events or moments in nature that rendered you speechless or overcome with emotion?


In the case of my loved one, when they were diagnosed with their interminable and untreatable disease, there was a conversation with loved ones on what the end of the life event would be. They were light-heartedly asking what people would say or do after their death and some mention came up of a gathering to illustrate their positive attributes. This death embracing person stated that if there is a party celebrating their life then they might as well be there! What an incredibly thoughtful, life-altering event not only for the person who is dying but for those of us who continue to live.


Zadie Smith says it well. "Not everyone wants this conventional little life you're rowing your boat toward. I like my river of fire. And when it's time for me to go I fully intend to roll off my one-person dinghy into the flames and be consumed. I'm not afraid."

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