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Our legacy is defined by others because nobody gets to speak at their own funeral

As I watched the funeral and memorials for President George H.W. Bush, I couldn’t help but think about how powerless he was during it all.

Conversations were taking place, tributes and critiques being offered, events of his life being dissected in great detail — and he couldn’t do a thing about any of it. He was being defined and summarized, all without his consent.

You’re probably not a former President, but you will surely find yourself in a similar situation, albeit on a smaller scale.

There will come a day, when you will cease to be. One day there will be a funeral for you, and you won’t be present for it — at least not the part of you that really matters.

Some physical remnant of you may be there as a visual reminder for those gathered, but that is all. Your real you-ness will be somewhere else, with only a small bit of organic matter left here.

On the day of your funeral, you will not have something that you have right now, and probably take for granted. You will not have a voice.

You won’t get to craft the guest list; to decide who shows up or who stays away, or what they feel as they mark the end of your time on this planet. Their grief, ambivalence, or joy will be beyond your control.

You won’t be able to compose the narrative, spin the story, clarify misunderstandings, or manage perceptions. You will not have the chance to set the record straight or to place period at the end of the sentence that was your life.

It will be impossible for you to posthumously have the last word on who you were. Once your voice goes silent and your breath runs out, your legacy will be out of your hands and in the hands of others to define.

And since you will not be able to say anything on your behalf on the day of your funeral, only two things will speak then: the sum total of the life you lived up until the moment your heart stopped beating — and the voices of those your life rubbed up against during that time.

Your memory, will be what those two things determine it will be: your choices now, and what those choices do in and to and for people.

What this means, dear friend, if you’re reading these words — is that you still have time to say something in this world; to those you pass by, those you interact with for a second, those you sleep next to, gave birth to, those you love dearly.

You can move through this day, giving people whatever it is you hope they will hold within their hearts on the day you depart; the voice of you that will echo in their heads long after yours has stopped speaking here.

Today, you have the opportunity to outlive your own life, to be a co-writer in your legacy. Maybe you don’t care what happens after you’re gone. Maybe you’re fine with the idea of everyone else getting to decide what parts of you get preserved and remembered.

But if leaving something beautiful to those who remain here, matters — you get to do that here and now. No, you won’t get to speak on the day of your funeral. So speak today. And while you still have breath, speak love.

John Pavlovitz

The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com

John Pavlovitz launched an online ministry to help connect people who want community, encouragement, and to grow spiritually. Individuals who want to support his work can sponsor his mission on Patreon, and help the very real pastoral missionary expand its impact in the world.

About The Author

John Pavlovitz

John Pavlovitz is a 20-year ministry veteran trying to figure out how to love people well and to live-out the red letters of Jesus, both online in this global community.

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