How to Die Better

Last week I got an interesting request from a friend in Los Angeles. He’s a member of the Forbes Communication Council, and he was looking forward to participating in a conference called ‘How to Die Better—what happens when an experience architect decides to fix funerals’.

His request of me was apparently part of his homework:

“Hi Deborah, I’m participating in a virtual ‘Design Experience’ campfire discussion. I am to ask two people:

1. What would your funeral look like?

2. When people think of you after you’re gone, what do you want them to think?

Do you mind responding? I think you will have interesting perspectives.”

Well. I have been thinking a lot about death lately—who hasn’t? We are living in the epicenter of a worldwide pandemic, and people around me are still dying of other things as well.

I just lost an acquaintance to a rare and insidiously speedy form of cancer. She was too young to go, and it caught us all off guard. She was forced into the unthinkable position of having to plan the details of her own death. The words her partner wrote after her passing spoke of her loving and giving nature, how she was moved to help anyone in need, and how he never knew a kinder, more compassionate person. It was poignant, moving, and perfect.

Never once did he mention her worldly accomplishments, how many clients she worked with, how many hours a week she devoted to her job. That stuff seems so unimportant and trivial now, and those of us who knew her don’t even know or care about that part of her life. She was a beautiful soul and a joy to be around, that’s how she she will be remembered.

So of course this made me put a lot of thought into my friend’s question—how would I like my own passing to be handled? Just how would I like to be buried? And of course, the bigger, more important question—how do I want to be remembered after I’m gone?

The first question is easy for me to answer. My beautiful songstress friend Chrystabell and her mother Sunny inherited a graveyard in San Antonio and they’re embracing and promoting ‘Natural burials’. The body is shrouded in linen and placed directly in the ground–no embalming. I also want a tree planted directly over my grave, and a little stone bench placed under where branches will eventually shade it. Weird? Probably, but it’s what I want and it seems pretty simple.

Answering that other question is a bit more complicated—how do I wish to be remembered?

I don’t want my life to be remembered in terms of accomplishments, read like a resume in a strange, cold building by some person who didn’t even know me. I would rather be remembered for how I made people feel, and hopefully that feeling will be love. I’d like be remembered as someone who made things prettier, who put love into whatever I tried to do. And I’d like to be remembered as someone who really loved people, all kinds of people. I’d like to believe I made the people I came in contact with feel good and appreciated, valued—at least by me. I’d like to be remembered as someone who truly loved.

In a world like ours, where loving one another is at a premium, I think that must be the one truly important accomplishment.

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