Funerals have a way of making us think differently about life. They can be a strange combination of heartbreaking yet inspiring. Funerals give us a chance to step back from the day-to-day grind and reflect on what’s truly important in life.
I’ve often left funerals feeling inspired to make changes in my life to be more present, invest in relationships, and help others. Each of the three funerals that I’ve attended recently had a common theme to “live life to the fullest”. This can be a strong message when you (me) may not being doing so. Life is short, and sometimes it takes a swift kick to the gut to get us to realize this truth.
Three funerals in Eight Days
All three funerals were for individuals in different stages of life taken for different reasons. All were heartbreaking in their own way.
- A young man who took his own life.
- A sweet woman with medical complications
- A mother of two young children with aggressive cancer
A Life Taken Too Soon
This may not be fair to say, but the younger a person is the more difficult the funeral. There’s something about someone who hasn’t had a chance to live a full life that makes it hurt so much more. What could be so bad that a 22 year old would take his own life?
This young man was a teammate of mine on a men’s summer baseball team. He was refreshingly positive and optimistic. In an era where people tend to think about themselves, especially when it comes to playing time, I never had an issue with him. If he wasn’t in the starting lineup, he would just smile and say “I’m just happy to be here. I’ll be ready when you need me.”
Midway through the year his brother wrecked his car, so I ended up picking him up and taking him to several games. I got to know this young man. He had a challenging upbringing, but was so motivated to succeed in life. And succeed he did in many areas, weather it was sports, education, and serving his country. It just makes me wonder, is there something I could have done or said that could have resulted in a different outcome? Probably not, but I can’t help to think of it.
On our last car ride of the season he shared with me that he was planning to join the army. I followed his journey through basic training to his first deployment in Texas. A few months ago he let me know that he may be coming home to St. Louis for the summer and asked if he could play ball with us again. Of course I said yes, and left it at that. Maybe I should have pushed more. However, on social media and our random interactions everything seemed just fine.
It just goes to show that you never really know what a person is going through. I don’t know all the details of what happened, and don’t care to pry. No matter the situation, I hope that he is now at peace.
Live Life to the Fullest
The second funeral was for my wife’s great aunt, who passed away somewhat suddenly in her mid 80s. She had a minor heart attack, went in for surgery, and never made it out. There were complications of some sort.
Her funeral felt much more like a celebration of life. Stories were shared about her and her beautiful family. My wife’s aunts told stories about spending time at her property when they were younger. Their cousins (her daughters) were like cousins to them. I spent most the day sitting back and listening to great stories and better memories.
When I think about her I think about family. Her and her daughters were always present at every extended family function. They never missed a wedding, funeral, or other family event. Even though I didn’t know her all that well, I had the opportunity to develop relationships with others in the family. She really did demonstrate the importance of family and relationships.
Death is never easy, though when someone has the opportunity to live life to the fullest the funerals tend to be more of a celebration. I know it hurts to not have our loved ones around, though death is a part of life. Every one of us will succumb to it some day. When my time runs out, I hope to have lived a life as full as she did.
Learning to Appreciate Life to the Fullest
Last but certainly not least was my wife’s cousin. She was the one of the three we were closest with. Out of all of my wife’s family she was my favorite cousin (don’t tell the others). Always the life of the party, overly positive, while also not being afraid to be brutally honest.
Eight and a half months ago she found out that she had terminal cancer. Her and her partner have two young children and an extended family who adored her. At this time last year she was living a normal life, then all the sudden she was hit with an unthinkable diagnosis.
Like most family in this situation, my wife and I wish we would have spent more time with her. She was only an hour away, so why didn’t we go to visit more often? Why didn’t we do more to help? Others had set up fundraisers and helped finish the basement in her home, and I’m left with the feeling of not doing nearly enough.
She came to visit us a few weeks ago after our daughter was born. The experience was surreal and one that I won’t ever forget. She was on a lot of medication, yet was sure to let each and every one of us know how much she loved us. She lectured me on making sure to focus on the important things in life. Family, relationships, and God. I helplessly asked her if there was anything I could do to help and she replied, “just keep being a great dad to those two beautiful children”.
She had found tremendous faith in a higher power throughout her illness. Every opportunity in her last few months was used to express love for her friends and family, and to take care of her two young children. With her time cut short you could tell that she was trying to squeeze every moment out of life.
Why does it take a terminal disease, near death experience, or other similar event to make us fully appreciate life? Whenever I go to funerals I always tell myself that I’m going to love more. That I’m going to live in the present moment more often. The message at funerals is often to live life to the fullest. Here’s the brutally honest truth — once the message wears off after a few weeks I go right back to living just like I did in the past.
- Why do I spend so much time worrying and stressing about things that don’t really matter?
- How can I take more time to really appreciate the good things in life?
- Why am I always thinking about the future instead of appreciating the moment?
Humans are strange and complicated creatures.
Preparing for Death
It’s tough to say there is a silver lining when a mother leaves her two young children behind. Though as soon as she received her diagnosis, her mind immediately went to making sure that her children were taken care of long term.
Through the generosity of her family and friends she was able to pay off her home. Not only is the home paid for, she has put money aside to pre-pay all taxes, utilities, and other bills until her children turn 18. Money is also put aside for the college funds of her children.
The community stepped in and finished the basement to turn it into living quarters for her parents, who recently moved in to help with the children.
Again, why didn’t I do more to help?
She has gifts and video messages set aside for each big event in her children’s lives — birthdays, holidays, other life events.
And she continually made sure to tell every one of her family and friends how much love she had for them. She’ll be the first to admit the regret in not living her life to the fullest before her terminal diagnosis. Unfortunately, the way she lived her life previously wasn’t much different than most of us do today.
Since this is a blog about financial independence, you can probably see the connection. Thankfully she had an extra eight months along with supportive family and friends to take care of her babies. However, what if her death was more sudden or there wasn’t a support network? This isn’t something most of us think about, but maybe we should. For many of us the pursuit of financial independence is so much more than just retiring early.
I wrote a post recently about leaving behind a legacy, and I would say that she did everything she could to leave a long lasting legacy for her children.
Live Life to the Fullest
I’m trying to take small steps to live more like she did during her final eight and a half months. Reminding myself to be more present, being more patient with my children, praying/meditating more often, and trying to slow down to appreciate all of the good things in life.
Old habits can be hard to break. Most of us will go back to what we’re used to or what feels comfortable. I am thankful for having these three individuals in my life, and owe it to them to do my best to live life to the fullest. It’s strange how hard this can be sometimes though.
Mark is the founder of Financial Pilgrimage, a blog dedicated to helping young families pay down debt and live financially free. Mark has a Bachelor’s degree in financial management and a Master’s degree in economics and finance. He is a husband of one and father of two and calls St. Louis, MO, home. He also loves playing in old man baseball leagues, working out, and being anywhere near the water. Mark has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, NerdWallet, and the Plutus Awards Showcase.
Ms Zi You says
Funerals are always really sad, but I agree they are harder for young people who had so much life left to live.
And I think we all need to take steps to make sure we are living the life we want, and make changes to get there.
Thanks and I agree. For me living my best life is mostly about just stopping to realize how good things are for the most part. Trying to get better at practicing gratitude, living in the moment, and being there for others who need help.
That made me cry 🙁 I’m so sorry for your three losses 🙁
Thank you. This was a hard one to write.
The CFO says
I had a good friend pass away in an accident a few months ago leaving behind a wife and 3 young kids. It made me rethink my priorities and what I was leaving to my own two young kids. It made me start working properly on my blog and I am also trying to make small changes in my life that will make big changes when they come together. One step at a time.
Thanks for sharing your thought.
Yes, death has a strange way to make us think differently about things. Keep up with those small changes because they definitely lead to bigger things.
I’m sorry for your losses. We fear death, but we don’t do enough to live the life that we have now. This is a great message to prioritize what’s important and focus on that. As I grow older, I’ve been trying to spend more time with my parents. I know in the grand scheme of things, their time is coming to an end and I’ve really enjoyed connecting with them and getting to know them a bit more. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.
Thanks. I definitely need to appreciate my parents more since one day they may not be around. Cheers to all of us doing our best to live life to the fullest!
Money Beagle says
One funeral definitely gets you thinking, but three….wow. Yeah, that had to be some pretty weighty stuff. Sorry for your losses and I with you luck on following through with living life more fully. It would honor each of them.
Thanks. I’m doing my best to honor them. Some days are harder than others!
Amy @ LifeZemplified says
Sorry for your losses FP. So. Touching. <3
Thanks, Amy. Much appreciated.
I’m sorry for your losses. It’s important to keep things in perspective like you said an enjoy life while we can still enjoy it because so many don’t get that chance and one random day it may be us.
Agreed. Many of us including myself do not fully appreciate how good we have it. Thanks for your comment.
Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life says
I’m sorry for your losses – you’re right, we never know what people are struggling with when it comes to mental health, and so few people have access to good care in that arena.
We had a long string of losses, parents and other relatives, over a series of months and years in my 20s. It left an indelible mark on me and I still miss all of them so much. I do my best to treat every day both as a step toward an unknowable future and also as possibly the last day we have to live. We never know what might happen, or when.
It sounds like you are doing your best to honor them. Getting the most out of every day is so important. Thanks for commenting.
Richi Mittal says
You described all the three stories in a way that I was glued till the end. And this post has got a lot to learn from, for individuals of all ages. I’m sorry for your losses.
Thanks so much for reading! I appreciate your comment.
Little Miss Fire says
My thoughts are with you at this sad time. Speaking as someone who has been very close to ending it all many years passed, I can say that you did everything you could have for the young man. Unfortunately there is nothing that people can do once the darkness sets in. I always find the most optimist of people struggle the most.
I have noticed the same with extremely social and sometimes optimistic people. Just wish there was more I could do to help.
Death comes for us all but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept. I feel for you. Four years ago, I buried an entire generation of my family in 6 months (parents, parents-in-law, and a family member who took his own life, also at a relatively young age. My entire viewpoint of life changed when I buried my father. I now realize time is the ultimate resource, not money. Regret over the past is a waste of a finite resource. Live today, yesterday is gone.
I agree. Just wish it was easier to do instead of talk about. I haven’t had anyone really close pass in a long time, though I know that time is coming and I hope I can handle it.
Dr. Cory S Fawcett says
I’m a big fan of living life to its fullest. All to often that gets translated into filling your credit card to its fullest to have even more experiences. I think it is best to say take what you have and use it to the fullest. Adding debt often cancels out the experience. The things that make your life full are often free. Spending time with people before they are gone is priceless.
Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
Prescription for Financial Success
Companies use powerful marketing techniques to convince us of what is supposed to make us happy, even though much of it really doesn’t. Especially when debt lingers behind it. Humans really are strange and irrational creatures.
Dollar Habits says
Beautiful post with a very powerful message. I am so sorry for the loss you have experienced. I can’t thank you enough for the timely reminder to live life to the fullest and focus on what is truly important. I am so inspired by how your wife’s cousin chose to spend her remaining time and the legacy she crafted for her children. All the best to you and your family.
Thank you! She really went above and beyond to leave lasting memories with her children in all areas. I’m inspired by her as well.
Mark Dias says
Can’t agree more with this
In the past year, I have been to 4 funerals. My wife’s dad, 2 uncles, and a cousin’s son. Three of the four were over 80, so they lived a full life. The other one was for a 25 year old who died from drugs. All were sad, but the funeral for the young man was tragic. As you stated, all of them centered me and reminded me that we only have today. It is important to save and invest for the future, but it is also important to try to bring as much as you can to the current day.
For sure. There has to be a balance. Finding out what really makes us happy in life can be more difficult than we think. Often times happiness doesn’t come with more stuff but with experiences and relationships.
Thank you for this beautiful article! Not living life to the fullest is one of my biggest fears and I try to be mindful and enjoy every day. Not always easy to remember when life gets busy though.
Thank you! I have a lot of work to do in the mindfulness area. Being present isn’t something that comes natural to me especially after busy days!
Savvy History says
This is a powerful post. Thank you for putting your thoughts out here for all of us to learn from and I’m sorry for your losses. Sometimes I wonder if loss has prompted my journey and inspired deep reflection as well. I have wasted a lot of my life with meaningless pre-occupations and ill-founded anxiety. Sometimes I read a post like this to help me gain perspective. Thanks and best wishes.