What Will They Say When You Are Dead?

Last week, Gail and I attended the Building Champions Experience in Sunriver, Oregon. One component of the conference was focused on creating a life plan. I first did this about eight years ago, but it was Gail’s first time through. We began by visualizing our own funeral.

A Family Tenderly Remembers the Passing of a Loved One - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Kameleon007, Image #6322443

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Kameleon007

I realize that this may sound morbid, but it is incredibly helpful. In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey exhorts us to “begin with the end in mind.” Starting with your own funeral is the ultimate form of this.

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Daniel Harkavy, the CEO of Building Champions, led us through this exercise in Sunriver. He instructed us to write out our own eulogy. I have done this every year, tweaking it each time. It provides an unparalleled opportunity to connect to your most important priorities and values.

If you want to do this on your own, I recommend the following seven steps:

  1. Schedule a four-hour appointment with yourself. This may seem like a long time, but I have found it’s about right. It gives you the opportunity to disengage from the demands of day-to-day life and immerse yourself in the exercise. However, more than this amount of time might be difficult to sustain emotionally.
  2. Find a quiet place that is completely private. You will need a place where you won’t get distracted. I have found that I best connect to what’s important when I am in a beautiful, quiet spot outdoors. Movie soundtracks can also enhance the setting. Warning: find a place where you feel free to express your emotions. It is not unusual to cry or even weep.
  3. Make a list of those in your life who matter the most. Obviously, you will want to include your immediate family, but there are undoubtedly others as well. My own list includes God, Gail, my children, my parents, my co-workers, my friends, and even my readers and Twitter followers.
  4. Now visualize your own funeral. Michael Gerber provides some guidance for this in his excellent book, The E-Myth Revisited:

    I’d like you to imagine that you are about to attend one of the most important occasions of your life.

    It will be held in a room sufficiently large to seat all of your friends, your family, your business associates—anyone and everyone to whom you are important and who is important to you.

    Can you see it?

    The walls are draped with deep golden tapestries. The lighting is subdued, soft, casting a warm glow on the faces of your expectant guests. The chairs are handsomely upholstered in a golden fabric that matches the tapestries. The golden carpeting is deeply piled.

    At the front of the room is a dais, and on the dais a large, beautifully decorated table with candles burning at either end.

    On the table, in the center, is the object of everyone’s attention. A large, shining, ornate box. And in the box is … you! Stiff as the proverbial board.

    Do you see yourself lying in the box, not a dry eye in the room?

    Now, listen.” (p. 137)

  5. Write down what each person says. Imagine that the people who mattered the most to you have five minutes to speak. What did they most appreciate about you? What did your life mean to them? What impact did it have? What have they lost with your passing? Write these words down as though you were that person. A paragraph for each should be sufficient.
  6. Determine what would have to change in your life in order to create this outcome. Here’s the good news: you aren’t dead yet. You can still change the outcome. You can take the steps necessary to begin shaping these eulogies—and the outcome of your life—now. Do you need to make a phone call, rekindle a relationship, or be more intentional with those you love? Whatever is required, wouldn’t it be worth the effort?
  7. Use this as the motivation to create a written plan. A “life plan” may sound daunting, but it’s not. In fact, I believe you will find it to be one of the most inspiring experiences of your life. I have provided a step-by-step guide in another post, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that my purpose here is to motivate you to live your life intentionally, with purpose. A life plan will help you do that.

This eulogy exercise is not theoretical. You will eventually die, and it will come sooner than you expect. That’s just reality.

From Sunriver, Gail and I flew to Phoenix to attend the funeral of her oldest brother, Philip. Though Gail’s parents lived into their mid-80s, Philip died at 66 of an unknown auto-immune disease. To those of us who loved him, we felt he was was taken from us before his time.

Philip was a retired Air Force Colonel, so he had a full honor guard at his funeral. It was deeply moving. (His daughter, Karen wrote eloquently about it.) I was especially touched by the eulogies of his two sons delivered. We then spent the next couple of days with Gail’s family, remembering Philip and paying tribute to a man who lived his life so well.

Question: What about you? What will the most important people in your life say when you are gone?
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  • http://twitter.com/TesTeq TesTeq

    I really don’t care what they will say when I am dead.

    I do care what they say to me when I’m still alive. It is the result of me being with them here and now.

  • http://geoffreywebb.wordpress.com/ Geoff Webb

    Once again, thanks for sharing your life with us, Mike. I've completed a similar life-plan – and helped others through the process, thanks in part to your "tele-tutelage." As for me, I hope the people who have relationships or encounters with me experience more clarity, more life, and more freedom as a result.

    Of course that will only happen if I'm clinging to – and introducing them to – the One who does that for me.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Amen to that, Geoff. Thanks for commenting.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Thanks for sharing your life plan with us, Mike. I think this is one of the most important subjects on your blog. I need to schedule a day to do this exercise and create a life plan. Life is slipping away quickly. It's funny how the urgent but unimportant things in life keep us from doing what really matters. Thank you for the motivation to get it done!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You’re welcome. I think you will find it to be a profound experience.

    • http://modernservantleader.com/ Ben Lichtenwalner

      I like that John – "the urgent but unimportant things in like keep us from doing what really matters." Your comment and Michael's entire post reminded me of Covey's:

      “The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen R. Covey

      Thank you for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/matthewdevries @matthewdevries

    Talk about timely! I am in the middle of the storm of a new job, new baby, church merger, teenage angst, falling apart house! It's posts like these that really get me to slow down to think, re-think, and re-re-think what is important. Here was the clincher for me: "This eulogy exercise is not theoretical. You will eventually die, and it will come sooner than you expect." Thanks again for all your guidance.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You are welcome. This does sound like the right timing.

  • http://www.berkerblog.blogspot.com SueB

    Thank you for this! I just had my 67h birthday and, for me, I began thinking about these things following my Mother's death at 94, 4 years ago. It will be important for me that my loved ones will say without a doubt "Jesus sure did love her." That will be number one. The second thing I want them to be able say is that I sure did love them. My husband will say I'm the best thing that happened to him (we've only been married 8 and a half years). I don't say that egotistically, I say that because he tells me and others that now. My oldest daughter tells me that I am the most patient person she knows so I imagine she would include that in her remarks. My younger daughter tells me I am one of her best friends and I know she will miss my friendship. My son would say I'm generous and caring. They will also say I'm loyal and trustworthy. I am told I am a good cook. My family and friends may say I am creative and would tell about the cards I've made and sent to them. My family would also have some humor in their remarks as I can be a bit slow on the draw, sometimes very "laid-back", and at times, lack a sense of reality. (They wouldn't be mean in their remarks, we have many laughs over these things now, while I'm still taking breaths.) I would hope they would say I have a strong faith (thank you, Lord for that) and an old-fashioned kind of work ethic. I would hope they might be proud of the few accomplishments in my life – raising a family, much of the time as a single Mom; earning a BA in Education; earning my Pilot's License; sharing the Love of Jesus.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      It sounds like you are off to a great start.

      The power of this exercise comes in identifying the things you wish they could say but won’t—unless you do something different.

      Thanks for your comments.

  • Ary

    My condolences to Gail and your whole family. I read Karen's post and praised God for his faithfulness even in difficult times.

    Thank you for this post – What will they say… I drew up a Life Plan after reading your blog post on it a few months ago and I am still working on it. It helped me clarify what is really important in my life.

    I appreciate your clarity and the influence your sharing inparts in my life. God bless you and continue to use you.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your condolences. These are always bitter-sweet moments. Bitter, because we lost a much-loved brother. Sweet, because we don’t often have the opportunity to get together as an extended family.

  • http://www.toddburkhalter.com Todd Burkhalter

    I have just skimmed this post, but can't wait to give it more attention. This is something that I teach people to do in my practice. I am actually developing a post myself that suggests how your advisor will speak to your spouse once your gone. The theme will be focused around the question "Did we do the best that we could?"

  • http://www.maurilioamorim.com MaurilioAmorim

    When I taught writing for college students, I used to have an exercise that at first glance the students hated: write your obituary. "That's morbid." They said, but once they got passed the mortality issue, then they're aspirations and dreams would come through. Great insight. I need to find some time alone soon.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s been my experience, too. People find it exhilarating once they get past the challenge of thinking about their death. I think this is why the desert fathers so often exhorted their followers to meditate upon their death.

    • http://modernservantleader.com/ Ben Lichtenwalner

      That is a great exercise – especially for College Students. I hope other professors pick this up from you. During the few opportunities I've had to speak with college students on Servant Leadership, I take a similar approach:

      I explain that when my time on earth is through, I don't want to be remembered by employees as a self-centered boss, but one who helped them to grow and achieve more.

      Thank you for sharing Maurilio.

  • http://refreshmentrefuge.blogspot.com Gina Burgess

    Mike, this was so good. When I sold cemetery property I found that 9 out of 10 people I talked to didn't want to think about this or joked about it saying, "Oh just put me in a garbage bag and bury me out back." All I had to do was show them that funerals are not for the dead, but are for the living. It opened their eyes to the fact that planning a funeral at a time when the loved one left behind is still in shock is difficult at best.

    I have stumbled and failed Jesus many times in my life, however I've learned so much during those trials. I've learned that sitting on God's feet is the surest way to look like Jesus in this world. My deepest desire is to hear those words from Jesus, "Well done My good and faithful servant." All the other stuff is just dog food. I also remember how Stephen died, and how Jesus was standing in Heaven to receive him to Himself. Even if those we love and have prayed for don't remember us fondly, we can still receive that ticker tape parade for the greatest homecoming ever in Heaven. Don't you think?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I definitely agree. This is a great perspective. Thank you.

  • http://www.studyyourbibleonline.com Wesley Walker

    Thanks for sharing. I have written a life plan and think it is extremely helpful in clarifying goals and making decisions on time. As a preacher, and student of Scripture, it reminds me of Jesus painting our future eulogy. He states in the end we can hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

    This saying is what I hope I hear on my death bed.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That is the ultimate eulogy!

  • Lynn Rush

    Wow, what a challenging post. Thank you for this. I'm sorry for your loss, but thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  • http://theperkinsblog.net MichaelDPerkins

    Wow. I hadn't thought of doing this before. but it is definitely something I want to do this weekend at a local duck pond.

    I hope they say I was simple, honest, and humble.

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    This is certainly an exercise I need to put into practice and will plan to do so. Thanks for the outline.

    I just pray that when it's my time that I leave the world better than it would have been had I not lived at all. I'm more concerned about being remembered as a man of character and honor, someone who walks their talk, than I am about what I've achieved. I want to do excellent things but remain an excellent example for others at the same time.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That is my goal as well, Daniel. Thanks.

  • http://cashwithatrueconscience.com/rbblog Ryan Biddulph

    Interesting Michael. I am used to planning for the future but keeping my mind focused on the Now. I can see where planning with the end is mind is important.

    Thanks for sharing the contrarian exercise.


  • http://www.2Live4Him.org karstenC

    Wow. This is an eye opening post that reminds me of how temporary life is. Even though Christ has promised to wipe away every tear when I see Him, I don't want my life here to cause others tears of sorrow and pain. I can ensure that doesn't happen by praying about God's plan and how He has planned for me to live it. Thank you for writing!

  • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    You are welcome, Ben.

  • http://www.chrisshaughness.wordpress.com chrisshaughness

    Michael, this post goes right to the soul. It's no different than asking me what God will say when I meet Him. And causes me to think about how I've treated other people recently. But for me, I'm hoping that others will remember me for making them laugh and smile. Life can be so heavy. When others bring lightness, I'm truly grateful.

  • Joe S

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm sure you'd recommend attending this conference – but would you recommend attending with a close family member or friend, or is it best to attend solo?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I have done it both ways. I loved my wife being able to experience it with me.

  • ordinarybutinteresting

    I did this shortly after my Mom passed away. I found it to be an extremely personal, emotional and eye opening experience. I made a copy and put it with my will… Since I'm single and 3K miles from family I've decided to update it every 5 years to keep it "current". I think everyone should do this at least once, and if adventures/experiences in their life warrant frequent updates then they should update as needed.

    I also found it very interesting to read the first eulogy. I'm about to update it again and was amazed at how much thought I had put into the first one!

  • http://jennyrain.com Jenny

    I am a huge fan of Covey. I actually wrote my obituary while taking that class for a second time. You are right…it is life changing. I am thinking I may have to post it soon…thanks for the reminder. Reading my life goals and vision and obituary really help refocus me … great tips!

  • http://www.insuladd.com Leslie Snickerman

    Wow! What an interesting exercise! I hope they will say that I was "honest, loving and giving"…that I loved unconditionally and grateful for all those in my life…

  • Sotalentedgeez

    Hopefully I do not sound proud….but I do this often and much more than once a year. I heard Chuck Swindol on the radio talk about this about 20 some years ago saying how important it was to have your funeral in order too, picking your casket attendants, message giver, music/songs, locations, eulogizer.

    I also imagine what I think people would say about me … and that motivates me to live a life as close as I can get to what I hope to be remembered by.

    Final note: I walk graveyards all the time and read every headstone I can find. There on a headstone, people try and sum up a persons life in 6-8 words. I have 6-8 words I want on my headstone and so I live those words ……………and its good!

    I think I should also point out that I love to read the newspaper's obituary page every day. It is usually the first section I turn to when opening the paper (except Sunday's during college football season). These are the most inspiring page(s) in the entire newspaper. There is always beauty and inspiration to read in these papers. It sets my attitude and is a reminder to me, that this could be the day my life stops . . . . so I live it to the fullest and go all out. I breathe it all in….and look as deep as I can in every moment … and I find pleasure in it all.

    Jim in Portland (Imago Dei)
    (P.S. Sotalentedgeez is my local news online comment name. Some reason it shows up here. –Jim

  • http://www.coachbillhart.com Bill Hart

    Beautifully done Mike. Having coached hundreds of clients thought this process for the past 8 years with Building Champions, I can tell you that I will now be adding this excellent post to those embarking on the process.

    Great to see you, and to meet Gail in Sunriver. You add deeply to The Experience.

  • writesprite

    Not so morbid. I've thought about it often. I always wonder who will be there.

    I think this is a good exercise to make sure you don't hurt or offend the people you love. That way, you'll be sure they ARE there!

    I wonder other things too, of course, but I hope people will care enough to be there and that they'll say nice things. I hope they don't say, "thank goodness she's gone!" Ugh! That would be terrible — especially if it's my own fault.

    I don't think it's so morbid. To be honest, I wonder if there is anyone who hasn't thought about it?

  • http://vickisprayerstuff.com Vicki Tillman

    My goodness. A terrifying but powerful assignment. I think I will take it on.

  • http://www.4lovemag.com Karim Shamsi-Basha

    Dear Gail: I have been following Michael for about two years, since starting 4LOVE magazine, and from his writing and your Tweets, I have come to realize the type of family you have – similar to what I grew up in in Damascus – Syria: close and reliant on each other's happiness for our own to prosper and mature. I do offer you and Michael my sincerest condolences. In His name, Karim. p.s. Michael: I thank you for your continuos inspiration to thousands of us who rely on Him for wisdom, and on people like you for knowledge.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Karim, Thank you for your condolences and for your kind words. Bless you.

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  • Keng Sheng Chew

    Thanks for sharing this post. This post should be read together with your Creating a Life Plan post. Really appreciate so much, including your Life Plan Template doc! I guess, for myself I can get pretty distracted at times and "just drift along" the current of busyness.

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  • Julie-Ann

    What an excellent exercise suggestion for all of us! Taking the time to self-reflect is essential in everyday life and business as well. A similar exercise is suggested in this article (http://www.upyourservice.com/learning-library/customer-service-measurements/how-hot-is-our-service) as it relates to businesses and how they can measure their ability to serve customers. We could all benefit from a little introspection.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HVEZ24IUNUOZYKXK3HRBFSBJGY Tony

    There is that phrase again. “They say” a lot of people keep using it. It is like giving faceless authority to something. You should check out http://www.thepowerofthey.blogspot.com there is a discussion starting regarding this term.

  • Karl Mealor

    I remember reading Covey’s illustration about 20 years ago. It made a huge impression on me.

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  • Shaun Rosenberg

    Thinking about your funeral sounds
    like an interesting idea and is a great way to help you think a little
    differently about your actions today.  But I like going a step further and
    start thinking about how you want to be remembered by the world as a whole
    after you have died.

    I just wrote a blog post reply to your post here  http://www.shaunrosenberg.com/what-will-the-world-say-about-you-when-you-are-dead

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Good work, Shaun. Way to take an idea on expand on it!

  • Ch35357

    I love all these articles,makes me think all about what people will say about me,Some times I am hard to work with,I have to start a change there,Thanks for your pages,changes need to happen soon,because you never no when God will take me home to heaven!