Last month, we attended a funeral service for one of the husband’s uncles.

The uncle was 56. He had been ill with brain cancer.

At the service, the younger of two sons gave a eulogy.

As I listened to the young man share glimpses of the relationship that he had with his father, it brought back memories of an activity that I did as part of a course conducted by a life coach.

We were asked to imagine our own funeral. We had to imagine who would be there amongst the mourners and the guests. We had to think about what people would say to one another about us, what stories would be told in their eulogies. Would they have good things to say? Would they miss us? Or would it be statements like, “I never truly knew her” and “We weren’t close”.

For the next part of the exercise, we were asked to lie – as still as a corpse – on the cold, hard floor of a darkened room. We closed our eyes and listened as the coach described our burial. We felt the walls of our coffins close in on us. We heard heavy thuds as shovelled earth landed on the lid. We imagined our window of daylight being increasingly blocked out with every clump of soil that sealed our grave. Darker, darker, darker until we were alone in our final resting place – too late to do anything about the life that had already left us.

It’s a morbid exercise, but a necessary one. In order to live, we must first learn to die. Then we would know the value of life.

When I did the exercise, I had decided that I would be known for daring to dream and for the courage to realise those dreams. I wanted to be known for having a love and zest for life. I wanted to hear people say that I inspired them to live, really live. I wanted my family and friends to be able to wholeheartedly vouch for me as a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, niece and true friend.

After listening to my husband’s cousin speak of his late father at the wake, I realised that parenthood has since added another layer to the legacy that I would leave behind – my achievements as a mother. Through his eulogy, the young man shared that he and his father had been distant, right up to the few months before illness claimed the latter. I felt an immeasurable sense of loss for them – not quite for the death in the family, but rather, for the loss of an opportunity that they had right from the beginning to enjoy a deeply fulfilling parent-child relationship.

As we left the wake, my husband asked why I was crying. In response, I asked, “Wouldn’t it hurt you deeply if that was all your daughters could say of your relationship with them after you died?” He nodded solemnly in agreement.

What would my children say at my funeral? What would they say?

I haven’t yet figured out what would be the guiding principle that would light my path through motherhood. But I do know that it is in my power to build and nurture a beautiful, meaningful relationship with my daughters from the moment that they were born.

Coco had a reaction that surprised me recently. She had gleefully run out of the restaurant during lunch. I caught up with her, held her firmly by both shoulders, looked her in the eye and explained, “Coco, if somebody takes you away, I will have no more Coco. I will be very sad. Coco will also have no more mummy. Please don’t run away.”

She stared back at me… and burst into tears. She clung tightly to me and sobbed into my neck for the rest of lunch. I attempted to reinforce the lesson of stranger caution but was stopped by a pitiful mewing, “Don’t talk! Don’t talk anymore!”

I was surprised that a 2-year old could understand the concept – and experience the emotion – of losing a parent.

The physical loss of a life due to death is sad, no doubt. The waste of Life is tragic. The funeral was both a sobering reminder and source of inspiration to make the most out of the privilege of parenthood right from the start.

The only “participation trophy” you’re awarded from life is death. That’s the one thing we all get just for showing up. In the meantime, if you want something better, you have to earn it.

That means if you want better relationships, you have to earn them too.

–          The Matt Walsh Blog

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