I recently attended two funerals. Attending funerals always makes me pause and contemplate the act of living.
How are we living our lives? What really matters? What can we do better?
Both services I attended were actually celebrations of life instead of mourning the ending of it. To me, this is the way funerals should be. One should leave a funeral with a kaleidoscope of wonderful memories of how the deceased lived — what they did from the time they took their first breath until they took their last. It is this period of time that defines a person.
I remember when Mother died. Friends and family gathered at our home and laughter was abundant. Stories of the way my mother lived flowed freely and many of them involved something she loved to do — laugh.
I will never forget someone coming up to me and chastising me for the laughter. Without even thinking I said, “My mother would be thrilled that we are gathered together celebrating her life!”
Measuring life means different things to different people. Sometimes we measure it by wealth or job position. Sometimes we measure it by accomplishments or levels of education. But is this really the right way to look at life? Sitting at the funeral last Sunday, I began to contemplate what kind of measuring tape we should actually use when looking at not only our lives but the lives of others.
Several things occurred to me as I sat quietly in the church. We put too much emphasis on things that really don’t matter. Years ago, I heard someone say they hated for people to ask them where they got their degree because they didn’t have one. Another person felt that he was unimportant because he was a stay-at-home parent and didn’t have a fancy, high-powered job.
The things that really matter are not how large our house is or what kind of car we drive. It’s not who we know or how much cash we have in our pockets. When we take away all these superficial things, what we are left with is how we treated others and if we made a difference.
The last funeral I attended was for a dear friend of mine, Marilyn Malloy. In her celebration service, the common thread in all the stories and thoughts that were shared boiled down to one thing —the difference she made in the time she was given on earth. The words “loud, fun and full of energy” were mentioned many times, as was her love of children and caring for them.
When her husband, Frank, spoke from the pulpit, he ended by asking for a favor from those in attendance. He said, “It doesn’t have to be today or tomorrow, but just sometime in the future, think of something Marilyn did that made you smile. Marilyn would love that!” I thought that was a wonderful request and immediately started perusing my “smile moments” with Marilyn.
The first one that came to mind was from a few years ago. It was summer and I was baking fresh peach pies. I posted about it on Facebook and included some photos. Marilyn commented just a few words that made me smile: “Bring me one!” So, I did —complete with ice cream — and we had a great visit with many laughs.
Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Truer words were never spoken.
A person came up to me one day and said just that about my mother. “Mark, I will never forget your mother as long as I live. She always knew just what to say when I was going through a tough time. She left me feeling so much better.”
For those of us who are still blessed to have another day on earth, we should all remember the important parts of living. We should strive to be the best people we can be, to make a difference when we can and to always leave the people we interact with feeling better when we leave than when we got there. Doing this will indeed yield a life well lived.
Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him at instagram.com/mark creates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.