A cousin of mine, age 50, recently died as the result of inoperable cancer. Because her death was not without warning, her parents requested that family and friends share stories of favorite memories about Jeni.
I had the honor being asked to compile and edit these stories into a single document. When this was done, Jeni’s sister solicited some additional contributions from people who had not yet contributed their stories. Then, she and a family friend who is a graphic artist packaged the material into little booklets that could be distributed at the memorial service and read for the enjoyment of all those present.
I provide this background to help explain what comes next.
A family friend who saw a photo on social media of the booklets being assembled posted a comment along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us could get a document like that before we cash in our chips?”
I’ve heard some wonderful tributes over the years. Many, like the stories I compiled for my cousin, involve special memories, stories that made us laugh, observations about what the person was like, and ways the person affected others.
These tributes can be a terrific way for family and friends to say goodbye to the dearly departed. What’s missing, however, is the subject. The people they knew are saying all these inspirational, loving things about them, but the subject is no longer around to hear them.
What would happen if, as our friend suggested, everybody would get such a gift while they were still alive?
I know a lot of people who are modest about their accomplishments. They might be embarrassed or uncomfortable hearing what others think.
I suspect they’d be surprised shocked, maybe at how much they mean to others, and how much influence they have had on other people’s lives.
Part of this, I suspect, has to do with our culture.
There are also people who may be uncomfortable sharing real feelings or telling others what they like about them.
Because of this, we often don’t get around to telling people what they mean to us, sometimes until it’s too late.
We may have a beautiful or hilarious story to share at someone’s memorial service, but think how much better it would be if the subject was alive to hear it.
Despite the fact we are often surrounded by people physically and online, I think there are a lot of lonely people in this world.
What a precious gift it would be to give them a small document in which friends and family members had shared their favorite memories.
This doesn’t just apply to mature people.
There are kids out there who may just need a little confidence to get them on the right path.
No doubt there are teenagers who may feel isolated or alone, and who may not see that value in themselves that others see. What a difference it could make to them to get a solid jolt of positive energy affirming their worth in the world.
Even adults, who may be more established, might find themselves going through difficult times. These people, too, need to know they are not alone.
It may not be practical to compile the kind of tribute book described above for everyone. To start with, someone would have to organize it, and that might finish the idea before it begins.
What we can do, however, is to make a point to share some of those positive comments and favorite memories with the people around us.
There’s no shortage of negative or critical messages in the world today.
It would be just as easy to look for opportunities to share positive comments.
We can’t allow the fact that it might make us or them uncomfortable stand in our way.
We can’t get a free pass and not tell them just because “they must already know” how smart they are, or how creative, or how much of an influence they have on others.
Some people are very good at this kind of thing. Those are the kind of people who make us feel better just by being around them. This is not because of empty flattery. It’s because they actually make an effort and take time to find meaningful, positive things to say about others.
Other people may not be as good at this. It might not come naturally for them. The good news is that a positive outlook is something anyone can learn.
One of the beautiful parts of this is that when we make a conscious effort to lift someone up rather than cutting them down, we end up feeling better ourselves.
There’s a lot of talk about being thankful at this time of year, so it’s a perfect time to focus more on thanking others for the things they do. The best time to start is now, while they’re still around to enjoy the tribute.