Standing the test of time

Feb 2016    

Two postings in the newspaper’s ‘Obituaries’ section caught my eye the other day.

The first was for a woman in her 90s. It carried a list of her clan of 35 family members, nine of whom were great-grandchildren. Some may view this with a sense of satisfaction on her behalf – that she lived to a ripe old age and had the joy of seeing her family grow and grow.

The second posting was for a man in his 80s. There was no long list of surviving family members. Nor were there the usual words about how the deceased was missed. Instead there were these poignant words: “Upright and just. Generous and loyal all his life.” I also noted it was the fourth memorial posting for him. Clearly, he is still deeply remembered.

I wonder how the deceased would like to be remembered. If they could attend their own wakes and funerals, would they be surprised by anyone in particular who came? If they could listen in on conversations, would they be pleased with how they are spoken of ?

I do not think my curiosity about how we will be remembered is morbid or unique. One only has to look at the carvings on some totem poles and obelisks to see how some ancient rulers wanted to be remembered.

To bring it closer to home, some of us may recall how we collected the autographs and comments of our classmates in the past.

These were then feverishly studied to discern how others thought of us. In today’s context, it is akin to the instantaneous Facebook ‘like’. It is as if people feel they are being evaluated all the time and must be “liked” for every comment or picture posted on their Facebook timeline.

To have one’s qualities reaffirmed by others is not bad in itself. Gary Chapman has written about words of affirmation as one of the five Languages of Love. We are reminded to sprinkle these in everyday interactions with loved ones for our relationships to blossom and grow. On the other hand, believing that there is nothing about oneself which is pleasing or good can be a sign of low self-esteem and acute self-doubt. Such individuals constantly seek the approval of others.

What kind of approval should we then be looking for? Sadly, many of our life achievements cannot stand the test of time. Even wealth amassed for the younger generations may be frittered away in no time. Let us go back to the example of the obituaries.

I believe the two “achievements” listed earlier are longer lasting. The first is investment in the lives of people. I have a hunch that the great-grandmother probably knew this. Secondly, investment in a life well-lived according to one’s principles and values. Although nothing much was said about the elderly gentleman, one gets the sense that he is well-remembered. His achievement was how he lived his life rather than what he accomplished.

How would you like to be remembered?

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.


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