After You Die, Will We Have Known You?

After You Die, Will We Have Known You? October 4, 2016

girl in sun
photo by Julia Caesar on unsplash

Have you ever attended a memorial service and wondered whether they were talking about the same person you knew?

I remember once hearing a man described by his friends as warm and witty, when I had always perceived him as reserved to the point of rudeness. Our conversations rarely proceeded past Hello.

Maybe others memorialize someone as compassionate, but you experienced that person as judgmental.

Or they say hard-working, but you remember the fun you had together on long, lazy weekends.

Sometimes it’s all true. A one-hour memorial service rarely gives a complete picture of someone’s entire life and character.

But it’s gratifying when even brief descriptions reflect an individual who is recognized by all.



As a minister, I prepare for memorial services by soliciting stories from family and friends of the deceased.

If I knew the person well, I might add a few stories of my own. But even then, I seek out those who knew this person in childhood, in young adulthood, as a family member, friend or coworker.

I love it when every one of them, from every phase and aspect of life, describes the deceased in the same way.

Did this person treat everyone alike, everywhere? Did the same traits, and even eccentricities, show up no matter what the circumstances?

Are the same words used in every story told about them? Maybe this person was loving, humorous, adventurous, a great listener – whatever the specifics happen to be.

When they are described at their memorial service, does everyone in the room nod and smile and remember the same person?

This occurrence is fairly rare, but when it happens, I see evidence of deep authenticity in the life just completed.

The qualities don’t even have to be flattering. Let’s say a man was grumpy in the mornings or impatient behind the wheel or insecure about his hairline. Even those traits become endearing stories told by those who loved him, when everyone was allowed to see the same man.

The nature of authenticity has been on my mind because I attended just such a memorial service last weekend for a longtime friend. Even the minister remarked on how similar the stories about her sounded, how the same qualities were mentioned time after time.



What about us?

Memorial services offer opportunities to contemplate not so much death as the lives we are currently living.

Would your friends describe you the same way your family would? Are you as much fun (or not) with one group as the other?

Do your children receive the same interest and engagement your work colleagues do?

Does your charm extend to waiters and service people? How would they remember being treated by you?

People might know you in different contexts, but does everyone know the same you?

Of course, there’s room for growth in a lifetime. I certainly hope the kids from middle school would remember me differently than my current friends.

But would I still be recognizable as me?

Whether we are born with distinct personalities or develop them in childhood or shift them as we accumulate adult experiences – and I believe it’s all of the above – what can shine through is the divine presence we brought to earth, the soul having a human experience.

Ultimately, those soul qualities are what people truly know about us, if we let them.

That’s what remains consistent through a lifetime.

So no matter what’s going on with you these days, and no matter the different types of people you encounter, are you allowing your soul to shine through? Can everyone see it?

That would be a life well-lived.


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