How you live your dash

Where do you stand on funerals? Have you made plans for your own?

While I love planning so many areas of my life, my funeral isn’t one of them. I’m perfectly happy for there not to be one at all, since I’ll be dead and won’t notice.

But the thing about funerals is that they’re as much about celebrating someone’s life as supporting those left behind. So it’s not as simple as whether I care or not.

A good friend lost her father last week, so I went to his funeral yesterday to give her a hug. I’m doing a bit of contracting at the moment, so I asked if I could work from home and take a few hours off in the middle of the day.

I promised to start early and finish late to make up for it and my stomach was in knots as I made my request because I was turned down the last time I asked to attend the funeral of a good friend’s dad. My boss at the time said “no one goes to the funerals of their friends’ parents”.

She needed me to hand out name tags and take photos at a breakfast function on the day of the funeral, so I sadly did that instead.

Those words have lingered in my ears ever since. Is it true? Does no one go the funeral of a friend’s parent? There seemed to be quite a few friends of the grieving children at the funeral yesterday.

My friend’s dad was a lovely man. I’d chatted to him many times over the years, most recently on Christmas Day. During my rounds as a Christmas orphan I arrived on my friend’s doorstep just in time to take a family photograph of the various kids and grandkids with their patriarch, not realising it would be the last time they’d all pose together. While he’d been battling cancer for several years, he seemed in good spirits and health on that day. I look back and think how fortunate it was that the family had that happy time together.

In the days before he died he’d also spent time with the family of each of his children separately, which must give them all some comfort.

The funeral service was very simple and special. The priest presiding over it urging the congregation to consider the words by Linda Ellis in “The Dash”:

I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile… remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

That freaked me out a bit because I couldn’t think of anything particularly notable that people could say about my dash: she edited a gossip magazine and over shared a lot.

My friend’s dad, on the other hand, was a former high school teacher who helped a lot of kids from underprivileged backgrounds achieve their potential. One had written a letter to him a few years after leaving high school thanking him for inspiring him to pursue a career in physics.

It was read out by his grandchildren at the funeral and reminded me how much more precious words are than gifts.

Vale Ian, you will be sadly missed.

Song of the day: The Beatles “In my life” (played at the funeral)

2 thoughts on “How you live your dash

  1. Woah. It was a bit cruel to say that to you. I think you attend a funeral if that person’s life meant something to you. It did because you were a friend of his daughter. The poem, I have read it before and now just copied…thanks for the remembrance that yes, we are just a dash. My Dad turned 97 recently and has already let us, his kids, know what his funeral is to be. Simple, quiet and ashes scattered somewhere. I believe, given his love of the beach it may be somewhere on the NBeaches. However, he is well….and I think not going to die any time soon. Thanks for your posts. Have properly subscribed now. I blog but not via wordpress. My own site!

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