A week ago, my husband gathered us all in the living room to share news that would rock our world. My father-in-law, whom we had tucked into bed the previous night and left sleeping at home, had died peacefully in his sleep. I canceled all my writing obligations. The only thing I wrote all week was note or two for a eulogy for my husband to deliver.
When a family gathers at a funeral to celebrate the life of someone dear and to console one another in their grief, the words of a eulogy can have tremendous power. Eulogies are gifts, even more for the people who mourn than for the deceased. As I went about my business all last week, tending to the myriad of details I had previously never even considered, deviating so far from my original plan for the week that it was barely recognizable, I considered what makes a good eulogy—not what makes a stylistically good eulogy, what makes stirring oration, but what makes the summation of one’s life “good.” What really is a life well lived?
One thing struck me again and again. All those clichés about living like you’re dying and not being able to take it with you? They are rooted in absolute truth. My husband’s father was a few weeks shy of turning 90 when he died. He lived a long, full life of honor, serving admirably both in the military and in the marketplace. But when I took the time to ask his young adult grandchildren what lessons they learned from his life, the answers were all tucked into little and hidden moments.
I know there are people who will beg to differ, but I think a life well lived puts relationships before resumes. A life well lived is one where all of the big decisions and most of the little decisions are made with the intent to meaningfully engage in the hearts and the souls of the people God has entrusted to us. The things that matter most in life are the things that are mostly hidden from the world; the gentle movements of hearts towards one another. A life well lived is a life full of those moments.
Often, the big decisions that frame a genuinely good life come at the expense of power or money or worldly acclaim. We have to sacrifice an opportunity or a promotion or a bigger paycheck to invest instead in a boy in a baseball cap or a marriage straining as a family expands. We choose a job closer to home, turn down the chance to travel, or perhaps we choose to stay at home and forego a paycheck altogether. The questions we ask ourselves when such decisions are to be made are questions of eternal significance and the answers often contradict the message of the world.
Did you ever stop to think what could be said about you in the first few days after you die? One of the greatest management principles going is to begin with the end in mind. I am not theologically astute enough to offer here an idea of what happens to a soul right after one dies, but I have to think that God is more concerned with the hidden moments of the heart than He is with the resume. I have to think that the peace in leaving and the peace we leave are both about the way we loved when we still had time. And I can tell you firsthand, what people remember are the ways that you loved.
One day, someone will write our eulogies. Right now, we are writing our lives. From my perspective, in the front pews, with the people experiencing great loss, the lives best lived are the ones that seize all the little opportunities offered each one of us every day to stop and have a conversation, to offer our help, to serve in the smallest, least noticed ways. What really defines the life of a truly great man are the decisions--big and small--he makes to live a life that is a genuine expression of love.