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Death seems to prompt us to think about life as surely as hunger makes us think about food.  When death comes near in any way, it leads us to question a good many things.

Part of the challenge in this system is getting the question right.

The daily news brims with tragedies of all proportions, from the untimely demise of the lone celebrity to the mass demise of relative unknowns. We meet our respective ends by means ranging from the self-inflicted to the unforeseen, from heroic to ignominious, but all under circumstances common to mankind.

The question is never whether we will die. Most may even ask why we die at some point, but to many, even that seems rhetorical.  The question regarding death comes down to when and how. We can agonize over it and rationalize it any other way we wish, but “when and how” is the most widely played guessing game on the planet. And the answer arrives as surely as the sunrise for us all.

What is a eulogy, usually? For the vast majority who haven’t completed an autobiography, it’s most often a hastily composed single-sided sheet of paper filled with a handful of disjointed and superficial scraps of our lives extracted from the traumatized minds of our loved ones and maybe from those jumbled files we’d been meaning to organize for years. The thread that strings those scraps together may be little more than the personal memories and sensibilities of the decedent’s best friend, asked after-the-fact to deliver the final message to a half-full room of grief-stricken and semi-aware survivors bound to not hear or remember much of what was said in any case .

Though it’s a romantic notion, is it a good idea to shape our lives around that? If death does make us focus on living, why does living, truly living, help us not to focus on dying?

Of course, the real import of a eulogy is more than the obligatory itemization of what we did while alive, though it often seems to boil down to that, if we fail to listen searchingly. The sometimes tedious recounting of attributes, qualities, activities and accomplishments of the departed are more accurately an attempt to sum up why a person lived.  The items are the breadcrumb trail leading us to a realization of the decedent’s chosen reason for existing.

It’s worth noting that mourners aren’t always the only ones at the viewing. Some folks come just to make certain the decedent is really dead. Whether beloved or reviled, the name we make for ourselves while we live, our reputation, is the only thing we can possess that we cannot lose when we die or will to someone else.

A wise man wrote, “A name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born. Better is it to go to the house of mourning than to go to the banquet house, because that is the end of all mankind; and the one alive should take [it] to his heart.”  (Ecclesiastes 7:1, 2)

We’re born a blank slate, without a reputation, buck naked amidst a cadre of folk all wondering who and what we’ll turn out to be.

Contrastingly, no one has to wonder, the story is finished as our remains and reputation are stuffed into our best suit and put on display for all to inspect one last time.  It is at that point, over the course of just a few days, when we get “The Big 360º Assessment,” compiled mentally and filed away by everyone we’ve ever known.

Rather than living for that half-sheet of scribbled notes that someone else will jot down in the fleeting hours before our interment, shouldn’t we start living our own mental, emotional and spiritual 360º right now?  We won’t have to morbidly agonize over why, how or even when we will die if we’re focused today and every day on living our “why” and choosing our “how.”

Are we getting the questions right?  Planning for the inevitable makes tremendous sense. Living for the inevitable is not only unnecessary, it may become mentally, emotionally and even spiritually counterproductive.

There are some simple techniques to help us focus on strategies for effective living rather than focusing on daily composing some stirring eulogy.

If we work at strategies for living, “The Big 360” will take care of itself.


Copyright Robert D. Jones 2013 – All Rights Reserved
Follow Rob on Twitter  @nuClusiv

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