What is your biggest fear?
According to Dr. Karl Albrecht has five fears that all people share: fear of extinction (cease to exist), fear of mutilation (think of spiders and snakes), loss of autonomy (physical and social restrictions), separation (abandonment, rejection) and loss) and ego death (humiliation and shame).
I am not a fan of spiders and you will never find me in an escape room. But the cessation of existence that underlies Albrecht's fear hierarchy, which he calls the "fear hierarchy," doesn't scare me. My biggest fear is to burden my loved ones after I die.
I don't want to burden my husband with raising our boys alone. I don't want to burden anyone with figuring out what I "wanted". And I definitely don't want to burden anyone with my things. For this reason, I recently did my own Swedish death cleaning, where I decided where to put my things, as well as my burial and cremation requests.
The current global pandemic has revealed another fear in me: the fear of not being able to communicate with loved ones shortly before my death. I am deeply moved by stories of nurses at the front of the COVID-19 pandemic, holding hands of people gasping for breath, people asking them to say goodbye to loved ones who may never see them again . I wonder what these people have in them when they can no longer speak. Regret not living the life they wanted? Words of love for forgiveness that have never been spoken?
Now I understand more than ever how important it is to live a life that I am proud of, a life that is based on my values and without remorse, in which the people who are most dear to me know how much they are loved. That is why I live for my eulogy, not for my obituary.
An obituary is a public résumé of a lifetime. This can include birthplace, education, work and volunteer commitments, military service, and a list of surviving family members. It's the end-of-life example of America's favorite question, "What are you doing?" Or in this case: "What did you do?"
When an obituary tells people that you have lived, a laudation tells them how good they are. The purpose of a laudation is to share memories, stories, qualities, quirks and qualities of the deceased. How did the person affect others? What will they lack? What is your inheritance?
American culture makes it easy to live for your obituary. In a world of transactional and surface relationships with “friends”, your obituary is similar to a LinkedIn profile combined with a Facebook profile picture. What did you do, who do you know and who cares? On the other hand, living for your eulogy means living for intrinsic traits of success, such as meaningful relationships and doing work that affects others.
Write your eulogy: a powerful exercise
Most often, a laudation is written by a loved one after someone's death. However, I have found that writing your own eulogy is a powerful exercise for intentional life. By writing down what people should say about you at the end of your life, you are building your current life backwards so that you can live in harmony with the most important things. To paraphrase Bronnie Ware: When you write your eulogy, you can live a courageous life that stays true to itself and not what others expect you to do.
You don't have to write from the perspective of your 90-year-old self. If you want to write it from one or five years in the future, that's perfectly fine. The exercise is not meant to depress you, but to help you deeply understand your values, desires and goals so that you can live in harmony with them. Not sure where to start? I have created a guide here to write your own eulogy.
Three things I learned from writing my eulogy
During this exercise, I learned a few things about myself:
1. What I do in everyday, everyday moments affects what my children will remember about me.
I am aware that my small, seemingly unimportant daily actions influence the legacy I leave to my children. Will you remember that I made pancakes for you on Saturday? Perhaps. But I want them to remember how they felt when they heard a special pancake party song while pouring the milk and mixing the dough. Will you remember a vacation? Probably. But I'm more interested in what they remember on the walls of our house. Did you feel loved? Have they been seen and heard? Have I encouraged and built them up? These are the things you will remember about your mother.
2. If a value that I claim to have is purely aspiring, I have to develop habits to integrate that value into my present life.
When you write your eulogy, you will likely include the things you appreciate. For me, love for God and family is most important. But how do I support these values in my daily life? It is one thing to say that I went to church. It is a different one to show how I have served others in my church and how I have spent time each morning thinking and praying. I can say that I was a dedicated woman, mother, sister and friend. But how often am I more worried about being “caught up” on Instagram than with my own brother? Nobody wants to see that "she scrolled" on her headstone.
If your laudation doesn't feel truthful, develop the habits to incorporate your desired values into your daily life. Set up a weekly phone appointment with a friend. Write an encouraging verse or quotation each day and think about it for 5 minutes. Rewrite your laudation after adopting habits that support your health and relationships, and see how they change.
3. Recognizing the gap between what I want to say about myself after I die and the story I'm telling myself now is an opportunity to change.
What is the story you tell yourself? That you're not good enough? That you can't do what your heart leads you to because you're too old, too young, not educated enough to experience? Don't have the time, money or resources to do this? What if the only thing standing between you and your goals is the story you tell yourself?
As someone who tries to walk the path of deliberate life, one would think I had an apologetic attitude to achieve my goals. But I'm telling limited stories all the time. I don't have enough time, I don't know how to start a business, nobody will care what I have to offer. But there is another, stronger voice in my mind that tells me that I am needed and that I can contribute. That there is an overwhelmed mother out there who can be influenced by something that I can create. When you write your eulogy, you have the opportunity to understand the impact you want on this world and find a way to achieve it.
How do you want to be reminded?
Life for your eulogy is that your spouse hugs you after you admit that parenting was just too difficult today. It's a coffee date with a friend where you really listen and don't even think about your phone. It is the light in your eyes when you organize a dance party with your children. It shows up for you and others in a way that is unique in today's world. In uncertain times, it is a lighthouse in the sea of distraction and chaos that leads you to the person you want to be most.
If you live for your eulogy today, your memory of tomorrow will change. How do you want to be reminded?
About the author: Emily McDermott is a woman, mother and seeker of simplicity and records her journey with Simple by Emmy. She loves dancing, writing poems and spending time with her husband and two young sons.