Slideshow image

If we say we really care for our families and friends, then why not place some time and energy towards planning and preparing for how we will be remembered?


By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt

Ernest Hemingway and I were born in Oak Park, Illinois. He was born in 1889. On Palm Sunday, April 11th, in the year Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, I arrived on the scene.

Going through papers and pictures which have been accumulated over the years, generates a real appreciation regarding the speed of the passage of time. Moments, people, places and emotions are no longer relegated to the dusty shelves of the past. Stories and conversations, once forgotten, are remembered and appreciated. Years disappear in a flash and are re-experienced in technicolor. (The last part is a bit of a challenge, when the pictures are in sepia tones or in black and white!!)

What I find to be quite fascinating is how twists and turns of incidents can have such a dramatic impact on a life story. Not having my draft number picked during the Vietnam War and surviving a potentially deadly car crash are moments which might have dramatically shortened my life. I will spare you the lengthy list of ways in which members of the medical profession have seen me through a number of challenges. I am deeply mindful of the reality, known by all of us, that each day is a Divine gift.

Being a son, a grandson, a nephew and a cousin are all part of my life story which identified me without any choice on my part. Becoming a husband, a father, a priest, and a Canadian citizen are all different facets of my identity as a person where I had some input into the decision. Being a grandfather, a father-in-law, a son-in-law and an uncle is simply a bonus!

A few years ago, when I retired from active parish ministry, I was invited to join a group of gentlemen who had also ended full time employment. As a part of the monthly gatherings there is a presentation offered by new members of the group. That section of the meeting is entitled ”Who Am I?”. The challenge set for the speaker is to encapsulate their life story within a ten-minute time limit.

The stories told are as unique as the individuals. The varied life stories and experiences are fascinating.

The shared narrative of life experience reminds me of a reflection which can be found in William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”. The speech, offers an overview of the pattern of human life from childhood to old age, and begins very simply:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women, merely Players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…                 
(As You Like It:Act 2 , Scene 7)

Each of us has a story to tell. Each of us has moments to remember. Each of us may reflect on the experience of loving and being loved. Yet who will tell the stories once we are gone ?

Whenever I officiate at a funeral or a celebration of life and there is an individual who will be offering a reflection on the life of the person who is being remembered, I always insist that the reflection is written down. It is not only to provide some awareness of time by the speaker, but also to ensure that there will be some written record that may be helpful for generations to come as they think about their family member or their friend.

One of the realities of those moments when reflections are offered is that often the perspective being shared is simply one of observation, not always close experience. The prayers used at a funeral speak to this dynamic:

We pray that nothing good in this person’s life will be lost, but will be of benefit to the world; and that all that was important to them will be respected by those who follow… 
We ask you that they may go on living in their families and in their friends; in their  hearts and minds, in their courage and in their consciences.
(BAS page 602 - 603 )

I have been a part of conversations as individuals prepare to celebrate the life of family member or a friend where they are faced with a barrage of questions regarding decisions which must be made and made immediately. Moving past all of the essential matters regarding governmental identification and financial concerns, decisions regarding casket size, writing death notices and setting a burial location suddenly must be made. Families may become highly stressed and are sometimes overwhelmed by being placed in these situations.

On the other hand, families who have been gifted by an individual with all those arrangements being put into place and all the preparations being made are able to focus their energy on a healthy grieving process.

I remember hearing a diocesan bishop bemoan the fact that from his point of view, too many death notices were accompanied by the notification that no service would be held. He commented that the services provided an opportunity for family and friends to gather, for grieving to be shared and a life celebrated.

As people of faith, especially during the season of Easter, there is an essential element of who we profess to be, that needs to be given priority. If we say we really love and care for our families and friends, then why not place some time and energy towards planning and preparing for how we will be remembered?

As I reach the age of ”three score years and ten” (Psalm 90:10), there is an element of surprise attached to it. I am not being morose when I consider how much longer my life will last. My Father died at age sixty-two, my Grandmother was ninety-nine and a half. Who knows how much longer I will be around?

I encourage you to engage in gifting those you love with time spent on ensuring that when your end comes, that they will not be burdened by cares which you could have looked after while you were healthy and able to make decisions which they will not have to face. Discover a way which is comfortable for you to share your life story so that by “making it known”, it may be valued, not only by the next generation, but the generations which follow.

Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full-time parish ministry but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese.