Tombstone Words


Update, my friends:  My application for moderator training with Better Angels was accepted!  AND, they may let me help with workshops both in Illinois, where I live, and Colorado, my home state!  Woo hoooooooo!  So much good work going on in this organization, please take a look!

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This post is a three-part thought experiment.  Take some time with this one, maybe–sit up straight, take some deep breaths, and see where it takes you!  I invite you to write down your answers to the questions with a pen and paper.  And then please share in the comments how it lands!  Please know that I write purely out of curiosity and a deep desire for exploration and connection, and not out of judgment or an attempt at ‘pimping,’ as we used to call it in med school, when teachers asked us questions just to see us squirm and fail.

I credit my life coach and a new friend and mentor for instigating this post, and the ongoing conversations both in my own head and with others that I absolutely cannot wait to have as a result!  The thread that connects the experiments is this:  How do I show up in my life, and how do I feel about it?


Experiment 1

Imagine you’re at an awards ceremony; it’s the end of 2019.

You’re being honored and given an award for something.

You’re at the party, wandering amongst the guests/everyone present, listening to what people are saying about you.

They do not see you; but you will be present to receive the award later–you are not dead.

Who is there?  How have they organized themselves?  What is the vibe in the room?

What are people admiring about you?  What are the words they’re using as they speak about you?

What are their facial expressions, posture, and gestures as they describe you and their relationships with you?

…What else do you notice?

What is the name of this award, and why are you the recipient?

How do you feel doing this exercise?

What emotions/thoughts/memories does it bring up for you?


Experiment 2

Now it’s your funeral or memorial service.  Ask yourself the same questions as above, but in this similar and yet very different setting.

How are people dressed? How do they look like they feel?

Do they know how you want to be remembered and/or honored in death?

Who would be there if it happened today?  What about five years ago?  Ten years from now?

Now imagine that the three most frequent words uttered about you at this event will appear on your tombstone.  Which words would you like those to be?  Which do you think your funeral attendees will give you?  How easy or hard is it for you to imagine the latter, and how close to your own wishes are they likely to be, today, five years ago, or ten years from now?


Experiment 3

Now, imagine a different set of people attending the events above.

These are your opponents, adversaries, and enemies.  They are your inescapable work colleagues, direct reports, bosses, and your estranged family members.  They are also the people you see regularly on your commute, the homeless people you pass on the street, servers at your favorite restaurants, and people who work at your grocery store.  They are your kids’ former teachers, the customer service representatives at Comcast or United Airlines, your postal carrier, and the workers who collect your trash.  What would all of these people say about you at your awards ceremony and at your funeral?

I did the first exercise with my coach a few weeks ago; it was powerful, enlightening, and grounding.  The second and third experiments occurred to me today, and I will consider them, chew on them, in the coming weeks.

So…  How was it?

4 thoughts on “Tombstone Words

  1. Wow, that’s a lot to ponder, Cathy. And I plan to do it—though whether I will feel comfortable sharing the results is something else. Your questions bring to mind David Brooks’ book, “The Road to Character,” where he differentiates between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” He describes the former as the skills we list on our resumes—the ones that help us get and keep a job. Eulogy virtues are the qualities he says are likely to be mentioned at our funeral—whether we were brave, honest, generous, kind, and the sorts of relationships we forged…. Brooks notes that a lot of us spend too much of our lives focused on the resume virtues, but that hopefully we soon recognize the importance of attending to our eulogy qualities. My short answer to your question is if after I’m gone people say “She was kind,” I’ll be ok with that. (I’d be happy with “funny, talented, and a good friend,” too.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Donna!! It’s so funny (cosmic) that you mention David Brooks. I had started to write this post when I had to drive my son somewhere. In the car I started listening to Brooks’s new book, _The Second Mountain_. I had listened to _The Road to Character_ when it was published and liked it. In the intro to Second Mountain, he mentions the resume and euology virtues from RTC and how his thinking had developed and evolved since he wrote that book!! I felt a flush of cosmic unity right there on the expressway, got home and finished my post with enthusiasm!! I still have like 13 of 16 hours to go on Mountain, and I highly recommend it! Just his vulnerability in the introduction alone is enough to make me follow his writing forever!!! 😀


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