How would you like to be remembered? And could this make a difference to how you live your life?

Later today I am going to a Quaker meeting. It is a meeting for worship ‘on occasion of a memorial meeting held after the manner of the Society of Friends’.  The person in question was over 90 when she died peacefully in her sleep. There will be sadness and a sense of loss, but also I am sure a sense of a life well lived.

Like all meetings for worship, we will gather in silence, which may be broken if someone feels moved to speak. We will remember the person who has died and think about the bereaved, and it is likely that much of the ministry will refer in some way to the life of this Friend. It may be that someone reads from an inspirational text, or perhaps a poem, or even bursts into song – again as they are moved to do.

Another Quaker custom is for testimonies to be written ‘to the grace of God as seen in the lives of Friends‘. And there are some lovely examples of faithful lives over the centuries; about ordinary Friends and their lived faith.  All this has got me thinking of a time when I am no longer here, and what I hope people might say about me at my funeral or memorial meeting, or even in a testimony written after I die.

How would you like to be remembered? What would you like on your tombstone (assuming you have one) or what qualities would you like highlighted when people you care about speak of you? And perhaps people who may be less important to you, but who know you – perhaps neighbours, colleagues, more distant friends?

Take a look at the epitaphs of some famous people.

  •  ‘A genius of comedy his talent brought joy and laughter to all the world’ – Oliver Hardy
  • ‘Workers of all lands unite. The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it’ – Karl Marx
  • ‘I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter’ – Winston Churchill
  • ‘The best is yet to come’ – Frank Sinatra

In 2012, as part of Dying Matters Awareness Week, the charity Marie Curie reported on a survey to find the nations favourite epitaph. This poll showed that in the UK our favourite by far is that of Spike Milligan: ‘I told you I was ill’.

Whether these people actually chose their own words or whether they were created by others, I am not sure. However what the epitaphs aim to capture is something about the person and perhaps their character or work. Marie Curie also asked a number of well-known people what they would like. Here are some of my favourites:

  • ‘With thanks to the ingraver for speling my epitarf propperly’ – Stephen Fry
  • ‘Go tell the chief whip, passers-by, that here, alack, unpaired I lie’ – Ann Widdecombe
  • ‘So would you call THIS ‘man flu’?’ – Louis Theroux
  • ‘One place I don’t need my lipstick’ – Alison Steadman
  • ‘Life was great.  Thanks to all who made it so’ – Sir Ranulph Fiennes
  • ‘She made a difference’ – Edwina Currie
  • ‘Please can I try again?’ – Bill Oddie

So what would you choose? Perhaps you want to be remembered for your character strengths or gifts?  Or for having made a difference? Would you like something humorous or clever, that would sum up the essence of your life? To explore this a bit more, you may like to:

  • Jot down your special talents and qualities, and any other words or phrases that catch what you are about, and that you would like others to understand about you. Any surprises?
  • Think about your present life. What really matters to you – what is really important?
  • Assess how well you are able to practise what makes you special.
  • Reflect on whether there are things you might do more of, or perhaps less of?
  • Begin to make changes in your life – even small ones can make a difference.

Here are some of the things that I came up with (there were more).

I hope to:

  • To put love at the centre of all that I do
  • To tell people who are important to me what I love about them, and to be sincere and specific about their unique set of qualities
  • To be kind and compassionate – even or perhaps especially if I don’t particularly like someone
  • To appreciate the ‘now’ and to be grateful for the many things in my life, past and present
  • To ‘let go’ of resentments, and regrets, as well as physical stuff I no longer need
  • To continue to play an active part in my Quaker community, and to recognise and value differences
  • To listen to my Inner Teacher/the Light, and ‘to the promptings of love and truth‘ in my heart.

Now I just need to make a start ..!