Filling the Church for My Future Funeral (Maintaining Meaningful Relationships)

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A few months ago, I read something that asked,

Envision your funeral:
What would you want said about you?
Who would you hope to be in attendance?

At the time, I flipped through the section quickly, thinking to myself, “I’m only twenty-five… I can’t think that far in advance. That’s too abstract for me.”

Now, after attending my father’s funeral, I understand. When I looked out over the pulpit while giving my eulogy to my father, I saw a fully-packed church, with every pew filled, and people standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the back, spilling out through the doorways. We were told to expect over 1,000 people that day, and I truly believe there were.

What was more amazing than the sheer number in attendance was the diversity of those there… these people weren’t just his coworkers and peers from the legal world, they were his childhood friends, tennis and racquetball partners, scuba diving and fishing buddies, clients from past cases, former employees he had stayed in touch with, mentors and mentees, extended family and long-lost relatives, even staff from restaurants he had frequented.

These people showed up en masse to his funeral, with touching stories and heart-felt memories, sharing the many ways in which my father had impacted their lives. Some of these stories we weren’t even aware of until that moment.

It made me happy to see this outpouring of love for my father. But it also made me sad, for myself, for my future funeral one day. Nowadays, it is so easy to disconnect from those around us, to be standing in a crowd, yet buried in our own devices, to be eating dinner with friends, but not even talking to one other. I have hundreds of “friends” across various social media accounts, but would these people care, or notice, if I fell sick? Would these friends come to my funeral if I died before they did?

I’m sad that phone calls and hand-written letters have been replaced by likes on our Facebook photos and generic happy birthday messages posted to our walls. Replaced by these easy ways in which we can feel connected to others without too much effort, without actually reaching out or knowing what’s truly happening in our friends’ lives. I can like and like your photos, and feel up-to-date on everything going on in your life, without once making real contact, without once asking how you’re doing.

When I found out my father had died, one of the first haunting thoughts that popped into my head was, “when was the last time he and I spoke?” Luckily, we had just spent the holidays together, so that question won’t eat me up inside for the rest of my life. But it has sparked in me that same fear for my other friends and family, those still alive. If something happens to one of them, what will I recall? That we hadn’t spoken in months? That the last time we interacted was through some dumb comment on Facebook? How often do I truly, genuinely interact with my friends? And how can I improve on this?

I’d like to be better at re-connecting with old friends, staying in touch with current friends, and maintaining meaningful relationships. To accomplish this, six goals I’ve come up with are to:

  1. Stay off my phone when with others.

    That means no scrolling through social media when I’m at dinner with a friend, no checking my email during drinks. It can wait. I can be in the moment.

  2. Make more phone calls.

    I have no excuses, with free voice calling now available through Whatsapp, Facebook, FaceTime, Skype, and more. All that should be stopping me is the difference in time zones. It is so easy to just pick up the phone and check in, I should be hearing the voices of those I love more often. Let me know if you’d like to receive sporadic FaceTime calls from yours truly! I won’t get my feelings hurt if you don’t answer, I’ll just call again another day.

  3.  Write more letters.

    I love writing letters. Sending a text message update is nice, but writing a long life update or gratitude note to an unsuspecting family member or friend, on beautiful stationery – that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. I’ve always been nervous that any letters I mail internationally from Hong Kong will get lost, so whenever I fly back home, I stockpile letters and stamps in my carry-on bag, drink a little wine on the plane, and let the giddiness that comes with drinking at a high altitude move my pen across the page. For my friends who haven’t yet connected the dots, this is why you always receive letters after the holidays. Recently, I’ve started leveraging my Google Contacts list more, to make sure I have physical addresses on file for my friends. If I haven’t asked for yours yet, please send it to me anyway. Maybe you’ll get a letter in one year’s time!

  4. Write more update emails.

    In addition to writing letters, which I never expect a response to, I like to send long-form life update emails, especially to friends I haven’t spoken to in awhile. Usually, I get a nice long response in return! I have some email exchanges that have gone back  over six years now, and what’s nice is that it’s okay if I don’t respond with a new life update for a few months or so, as long as that chain continues on at some point in the future. Then, you will always have that chain there, in your archive, to look back on and see how you’ve both grown and changed, without the clutter of random, fluffy chit-chat to block all the good stuff.

  5. Perform more small acts of kindness.

    I now keep all my friends’ birthdays on Asana, to remind me of their birthday annually, two weeks in advance.  I’m still not perfect at it, but I try to give them a call, send them a personal message, or arrange a birthday e-card – something to show them I’m thinking of them. Ideally, I’d like to be better at this for the many other life events and achievements we celebrate, beyond birthdays.

  6. Never end on a bad note.

    I’m grateful that I wasn’t fighting with my father when he died, that my last interaction with him hadn’t been some stupid, biting comment. I’m comforted knowing that it had only been four days between the day I hugged him and told him I loved him and the day he passed away. I’ve always tried to live by the mantra, “Never Go to Bed Angry”, but now, I will abide by this religiously. Who knows when bad things will happen, and while we cannot control these terrible events, at least we can control how we look back on our relationships and our last encounters, and spend our time reflecting on the great conversations and memories we had together, not regretting what we did or didn’t do.

I don’t think I will ever be able to fill a church the way my father did, but I’d like to know that I’ve lived my life trying.

Dear friends who flew down for my father’s funeral, no questions asked, then flew back to their respective cities just a few short hours later

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