Want to Learn How to Live? Attend a Funeral.

by James D. Hundley, MD

As we age, we trend toward different functions special to others and ourselves.  Think graduations and weddings when younger.  When you get older, however, memorial services become common.  Sometimes they’re for younger people, and those are really, really sad.  Of particular importance to this message, young people attend the funerals of young people in droves and the conversations and testimonials focus on early accomplishments and potential.  What I suggest, however, is that younger people should also attend some memorial services for old people even if you don’t know them well if at all.  There you can learn what was accomplished in a long life and perhaps discover what is important to those left behind.

While attending a memorial service recently it occurred to me that some great lessons in life could be learned by attending one.  Maybe it should be required of all students.

The fellow who died was an elderly gentleman with whom I had served on our hospital board.  We became friendly then but only rarely saw each other afterwards.  All I really knew was that he was a quiet, intelligent man who cared deeply about others and did his best to make the world a better place.

Upon reading his obituary and then when at his memorial service I learned what was really important to him.  Yes, he excelled at his profession (professional engineering and then management of a large plant of an multinational company) and he was a great public servant (active in his church, chair of our hospital board of directors, and so on) and those were discussed.  What really struck me was that his work, although important, was not the most important thing to him.  His family, other people and his religion came before his work.

He took his work seriously and worked at it very hard.  To rise to the level that he did in such a large company, he had to.  He had balance in his life, however, and never forgot his family.  That was made abundantly obvious by the testimonials made at the service.

Having been in the medical profession for over half a century, I have observed many physicians who act as if the only really important function in their lives is the practice of medicine.  Yes, one must take what we do in medicine seriously, but we must also realize that other aspects of our lives are important, too.  We cannot allow ourselves to be totally consumed b our profession.  If we’re fortunate enough to have a family, we must attend to them, too.  Not only will it be good for our spouses and children, it will be good for us, too.

So, if you want your life to be remembered in a great way by the ones you love and who love you, please take this advice.  Attend a memorial service or two and figure out how to make it happen.  It’s common to speak of planning for “End of Life” these days.  Well, if we look forward long before the end, we’ll be happier at the end of our lives if we like what we did during them.

Dr. Hundley is a retired orthopaedic surgeon and the founder and president of OrthopaedicLIST.com.