Tag Archives: Funeral

Stop Waiting Until it’s Too Late

top regrets of the dying

(Image/Humanengineers)

There was something I wanted to tell someone and I was just waiting for the right time. But then he died before I saw him again.

Message: Undelivered. Permanently. Nice work, Matt. Way to prioritize all the things.

The funeral was beautiful. As beautiful as a funeral can be, anyway.

It’s been a few years since my last funeral, I’m fortunate to report, but a couple of things stood out to me beyond the pain, grief and sadness everyone was feeling to varying degrees, and the brutal suffering of a couple of people on my personal I Love These People the Most list.

Life lessons, if you will. Obvious ones.

But despite their obviousness—and critical importance—almost everyone loses sight of, or forgets, them every day.

2 Lessons About Life & Relationships We Learn at Funerals

There are more than just two. These are simply what stood out for me while people cried in my arms or while listening while long-time friends of the departed eulogized him eloquently and tearfully.

If you think about life and death hard enough—and most of us won’t because the idea of dying or losing our loved ones makes us too uncomfortable (I’m not judging—I bury my head in the sand, too)—life kind of boils down to a contest to see who can die while feeling the most internal peace.

The contest “winners” are everyone who faces their impending death with total peace, having lived a regret-free life where they did all they could, gave all they could, and that their family and friends will remember them fondly because the way that they lived made them a great family member or great friend.

Like, I totally need to get my shit together. But I’m really good at waiting until it’s too late.

It’s probably not accurate to categorize these things as lessons. They’re observations that will surprise approximately zero people, but there’s a good chance you’re not remembering them during everyday life.

We’ll call these observations “sub-lessons” that live under the umbrella of the primary lesson no one ever remembers: Everyone Dies, and We Usually Don’t Know When.

1. We Treat the Dead, Terminally Ill, and Grieving Differently

I’m sure the terminally sick, handicapped, and people grieving the deaths of those closest to them resent being pitied and treated like fragile victims once the initial shock wears off.

But that doesn’t stop us. We typically treat people MUCH differently when we learn they’re dying, that they might die, or that someone very close to them just passed.

I’m not the kind of person who verbally berates strangers (not counting all of the things I mutter toward shitty drivers that would probably make Jesus and my grandma really sad), but sometimes I see people get pissed and say mean stuff to the restaurant wait staff, or hear them dress down some customer-service rep on the phone who’s probably making less than $10 per hour to field complaint calls from strangers all day, every day.

Maybe some of the people getting their ears chewed off deserve it. Probably a few. I just think if they had a sign hanging around their neck announcing that their mom died a few days ago, or that they had a terminal illness that would kill them in the next few weeks, that most people would treat them with a certain amount of kindness and patience.

Which begs the question: If our spouses/romantic partners, our children, siblings, friends, co-workers, etc. are all going to die, and that will be among the worst things that ever happen to us, changing our behavior toward them and enhancing our feelings about them… then why are we sometimes or currently being stupid assholes to them about things that don’t really matter?

Taking it a step further—so many men report the same experience I did at the end of my marriage—that we didn’t see it coming, or that we didn’t know that certain things were causing her so much pain.

We say that if we HAD known, we’d have made better choices.

But if something is legitimately the most important thing in your life, why would you EVER show enough neglect to jeopardize it? How could that even be possible?

But we do. So many of us do. For the same reasons we forget that we, and everyone we know and love, are going to die.

2. It’s Difficult to Leave Something Behind, But We Should Make it Count When We Do

The man who died was a musician. A talented one. Even better than I’d realized when he was still alive and I could have shared my admiration and appreciation.

His nephew, a doctor and pastor, was the primary officiant at the funeral, and he talked about two things in particular that affected me.

The first was his encouragement to the rest of us to live our best lives (which, HINT: is the entire point of this article as well), in which he shared author Bronnie Ware’s five biggest regrets expressed by the terminally ill from her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Because those are good reminders of things most of us are probably getting wrong to some degree.

And the second thing that stood out to me during the pastor’s eulogy was his observation of how rare it is for most people to leave something behind for people to remember them by after our deaths.

Painters leave paintings.

Actors leave films.

Builders leave buildings.

Authors leave books.

Parents leave children.

Musicians leave music.

Some career and life paths don’t lend themselves to so easily leave something tangible behind the way artists, construction crews, and parents are able to.

What a gift, I thought. What a gift to be able to write things down that occasionally matter to people. Maybe I shouldn’t wait until it’s too late to finish a book.

What a gift, I thought. What a gift to be able to adjust our behavior toward some people who really matter to us, even if it takes a terrible loss to trigger it and help us refocus.

Maybe we shouldn’t wait until it’s too late to actually behave with the love we say we feel for those who matter most.

Because if we’re too busy putting our most critical relationships on hold in favor of stuff that won’t mean a damn thing to us during their funerals, then I think it’s fair to say we’re probably doing it wrong.

But we don’t have to keep doing so. While there’s breath in us, we can always make a better choice, no matter what life throws our way.

What a gift.

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How to Be a Man, Vol. 3

Monty Williams

Be like this man. Monty Williams. Because he’s what we’re called to be. (Image/pelicandebrief.com)

“This will work out,” Monty Williams said at his wife’s funeral the other day.

Out of context, you might find the comment flippant or emotionally detached. It was anything but.

The phrase I like to use is: Everything is going to be okay.

And that’s what Williams, an assistant coach of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, meant when he said matter-of-factly: “This will work out.”

Life is hard. And the most fortunate of us don’t know it when we’re children, because nothing is hard. You just wake up every day in comfort and safety that you didn’t earn, pay for, or work for, and then people love you, give you stuff, provide your needs, educate you, and allow you to spend—compared to adulthood, and within the context of appropriate behavior—a lot of time doing pretty much anything you want.

It’s magical, and none of us appreciated it because we all wanted to be big so we could “do whatever we wanted” like the little morons we were.

But then we grow up and no one just gives us things anymore. We have to work for what we have, and we have to work to maintain those things.

Instead of living with people who tend to love us no matter what, we now live with people who have to choose whether to love us—but because we don’t know better, we take that for granted and often assume they’ll love us like mom and dad did, because we exchanged vows, or share an address, or share a bed, or share children. But then we sometimes learn the hard way that we were wrong about that, too.

Many other hard things happen in adulthood.

Losing friends in adulthood is harder than when we were kids. Financial pressures in adulthood weigh heavier than they do for mostly insulated children. Because Father Time stops for no one, those fortunate enough to stay alive longest must in turn deal with the most amount of death.

Life is hard.

And because it’s so hard to think and feel and exist beyond our own minds and chest cavities, it’s difficult to not wallow in self-pity during the darkest, most difficult, most painful moments.

A dead wife.

Just 44.

Mother of five children, three of whom were with her in the car crash.

Killed in a freak accident by someone recklessly driving 92 miles per hour on a four-lane Oklahoma City road with traffic signals and a bunch of other cars on the road.

And the grieving husband and father said, with courage and conviction: “This will work out.”

All roads lead somewhere. Even the excruciatingly painful and treacherous ones.

And no matter how much we hurt, someday tomorrow will get here, when we will get to see exactly how things worked out so we could arrive to a better, perhaps beautiful, today.

Everything is going to be okay.

A Tangent on Personal Beliefs, God, and Faith

I deliberately tend to avoid writing about spiritual beliefs, God, religion, etc.

These are human beings’ most sacred beliefs, and they often generate strong emotional reactions, and by proxy, controversy.

This blog is mostly about two things: Personal growth and reducing the frequency of divorce. And since I feel strongly that both believers and non-believers can experience personal growth, and that regardless of belief system, people will continue to get married, I want to stay focused on those things.

If we start screaming at each other about which story about God is most credible, and internet-damning all dissenters to eternal damnation, I think the important personal growth and Let’s Make Marriage Suck Less conversations might get lost in the noise, or ignored entirely.

“Hey, Matt! Why don’t you ever write about faith as an important part of making marriage last!?”

Because I think if I tell an atheist she needs to pray to God; or a Buddhist that he needs Christ’s mercy; or Christians that they need to read the Qur’an; or Jews that they need to accept the New Testament; or the faithful that there is no god, that all of our conversations will become about that, and not what I’m actually thinking and writing about.

I’ve said it before: Does it matter how right you are, or how much truth you’re sharing if no one hears the message anyway?

I’d rather people from all walks of life strive to be better people and have healthy, positive, loving relationships, than spend time quibbling over disagreements that will never be settled in this lifetime, let alone these blog comments.

But if you must know, I believe in God. I just don’t presume to know how God works, or what God wants, or why God would want whatever that is.

I personally believe that God doesn’t want people screaming at one another and dividing up into camps of angry people telling others they’re going to hell if they don’t change all of their beliefs to whatever their particular camp believes, or worse, killing people with different opinions.

Something is true. And maybe we’ll find out what that truth is someday if the lights don’t insta-shut-off when we die. I hope so. Maybe in the meantime we can speak and act with humility, treat others kindly, teach our children to do those things, try to get 1% better at something every day, and try to live in such a way that we are giving more to others and the world than we take from them. Maybe we can do that no matter what we believe.

Coach Williams is a Christian man with a strong faith in God.

And should you listen to this courageous and inspiring eulogy to his wife at the bottom of this post (and I really hope you do), I’d like to ask all non-Christians not to get distracted by Bible references and churchy things, but simply on Williams’ class, bravery, humility, and forgiveness. I hope any men reading who believe how they treat and talk about their wives should be measured in blow-job frequency or what other guys think about them, will watch it.

Coach Williams probably messes up just like every other person, ever.

But he strikes me as a man who loved his wife as wives are meant to be loved. Who loves his children as fathers are called to love. Who wakes up each morning and falls asleep each night with a peaceful heart and relatively regret-free. Because he WALKS THE PATH.

Sometimes guys like to internet-shame me because of the things I write about marriage. They think they’re tough guys, and that I’m a huge pussy.

I used to be sensitive about that back when I spent every day wallowing in self-pity over divorce and feeling sorry for myself about how unfair life had become. I spent a lot of time doing the Why me, God!? thing. It’s because I was being a huge pussy.

But that’s not what I’m being today. Things were always going to work out. Everything was always going to be okay. And now they are.

Coach Williams’ manhood has never been in doubt, despite always touting the merits of his wife to anyone who would listen. Her beauty, and strength, and importance in his life.

When he wasn’t with her, he wanted to be.

When he isn’t with his children, he wants to be.

It’s what love looks like. And courageously choosing it even when it’s inconvenient is what makes a dude, a man.

Williams is a leader of men. And for those brave enough to listen, we can learn how to be men, too.

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