I used to think I was a bit strange because I quite like going to funerals – not of people close to me, you understand, but people I don’t know that well. I told this to my friend Francie and was relieved to find that she felt the same. When we discussed it, we both agreed that it was because of one simple reason: funerals can be full of surprises. Sometimes, you find out things about people that you never would have guessed.
I once took my mum to the funeral of the wife of her cousin, a lady I had only met a few times. She had always seemed a very practical, down-to-earth lady and I had never heard her speak of anything other than the family and fairly mundane matters. During her funeral we discovered that she used to go up on to the Downs and write poetry, some of which was read out at the funeral and reflected a passion for nature and life that I had never detected within her. I also took my parents to the funeral of an elderly lady from church who had been one of the church pianists. She was a lovely, gentle lady who was always seen in twinset and pearls and appeared to be quite conservative. At the funeral I was amazed to find that she had helped to run a children’s home, had lived in Japan as a young woman and was fluent in Japanese.
Throughout life, we often look at the outside appearance and make huge assumptions about people, putting them in our little boxes. If a person presents a certain image or set of interests, it’s fairly natural that we would assume that’s all of who they are and never think to ask, out of the blue, if they’re partial to sushi or a nice rhyming couplet. But that makes me wonder: what boxes have others have put me in? What do I present to the world? Perhaps, more importantly, does my life, my attitude and my behaviour reflect what is truly important to me? Because the truth is that people will assume things about us whether we like it or not, or whether they have the right idea about us or not, but do they see the things we deem the most important about us?
My Dad was recently hospitalised after having a stroke and we were asked to fill in some paperwork about him. The staff knew he has early Alzheimers and they wanted to make sure that they knew as much about him as possible in case he could not always communicate effectively. My mum passed me the forms to fill in and much of it was fairly standard stuff. However, at the end of the form there was a box that asked me to write two things that were the most important to my Dad. I immediately knew what to write without even having to think much about it – his faith and his family.
My Dad has had many interests in life; driving buses, close harmony singing, walking, swimming, to name but a few. But I knew without a shadow of doubt that these were not what made him who he is. My Dad has lived a life that reflects what is important to him; a life devoted to God and prioritising his family. As children we grew up knowing that his faith is the bedrock of his life, the thing that affected his relationships and his choices. We also knew that being a good husband and dad were his priority. He told us, but more importantly showed us, that our Mum was and is his best friend and that nothing has ever been as important to him as spending time with his three girls.
I have reflected on the form that I filled in for Dad over the last few days and wondered what someone would write of me. I am sure that at my funeral there will be few surprises, as I don’t think I have done anything as interesting as writing poetry or speaking Japanese. However, although those surprises are interesting, they are not terribly important – they’re not what makes us who we are.
There may be things that people never find out about us, interests, hobbies or experiences that may surprise them to know at some point in the future. But do those who we meet in our daily lives, or even the people with whom we live and work, know what truly matters to us? I don’t mean that we constantly spout forth with our views and opinions as words can come easily. But can they tell by the things we say, the choices that we make, how we use our time and the way that we treat others, what we hold to be of worth and what it is that makes us who we are?
I wonder, if someone had to write what was most important to you, what two things do you think they would write?
Written by Rosalyn Satchell