I’ve been thinking about death lately. My thinking was triggered during the funeral of a close family friend. When she died, she was the same age as my big sister, and she is survived by five children – adults and teenagers. While seated in the pews of the funeral home, my mother sat to my left and my sister to my right. In the middle of mourning the deceased’s passing and her family’s loss, my mind wandered to thoughts of the type of service I wanted, and I leaned to my left and I shared my thoughts with my mother as they came to me. Something else was stirring inside me during the funeral service.

I’ve been called “sensitive” a time or two, and when my sister reached over, grabbed my hand, and squeezed, I definitely earned that title. Tears that had been welling up inside me for months suddenly erupted and I choked back a sob. I cried for the family of the deceased, and particularly the daughters who hollered out in pain, as though their mother was physically stitched to their bodies and someone came along and ripped them apart, leaving a gaping wound. I cried because, one day, my mother or myself would experience that, and I cannot stand the thought of anyone I love experiencing pain, hurt, or sadness. I cried because, when my sister squeezed my hand, I was forced to begin the process of reconciling some things in me.

I went to the funeral knowing that I would be faced with this moment. My sister and I, once as entwined as you can imagine two sisters can be, are not as close these days. When she squeezed my head, and I was faced with the reality of death, the unexpected shortness of life, and the wish for just a little more time, I began the process of deciding whether and how to mend my relationship with my sister.

I had so many competing thoughts before, during, and after the funeral service, but three things became clear in the weeks that followed:

1) We must each exercise our autonomy in crafting our narrative and shaping our legacy.

I must be deliberate in crafting my narrative because my narrative will become my history. We should not go through life passively, responding to circumstances, and unprepared for the future. I am the first to admit that I am not where I want to be. However, I am exactly where I should be – the difference is that I have faith in my journey. I have confidence that things will happen when they are supposed to. This confidence did not come easily. I had my share of false starts: in friendships, romantic relationships, and professional relationships. And I’m sure there are more false starts to come; I cannot control when or how they show up. Yet, I do not regret a single experience. I am grateful for them because they inform my life and led me to this very moment. At the same time, I firmly believe in planning; I have goals and plans to achieve them.

You can plan your legacy. You can aim high and try to shape your future and the impact that you will have on others. Of course, you cannot control how your intentions and actions will be received. You can, however, undoubtedly control your intentions and actions. With this control, you have the power to plan for your death by crafting your narrative and your legacy. We all have the autonomy to create positive and inspiring memories.

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I want to leave a legacy that I would be proud of. My mission is to identify, teach, and manifest the power of self-revelation. One way that I work towards and achieve this mission is through writing and curating. Dressing every day is an expression of my creativity, my identity, and my freedom. These are just a few of the ways that I am crafting my legacy and narrative.

2) The more you do in service to others, the wider your reach, and the more sustaining your legacy.

A few people have told me that they are trying to figure out their purpose and their passion, and how to merge their purpose and passion in a way that makes their lives more fulfilling. During these discussions, I urge them to also consider ways to serve others in the midst of manifesting their passion. It’s no coincidence that when your purpose and passion involve serving someone besides yourself, you feel more fulfilled. OPC-201407-help-community-steven-sawalich-949x949And yes, you can get paid for serving others. Being of service does not mean you are doomed to a life of poverty and trying to figure out how to feed yourself and your family. Operating from a place of service to others will no doubt make your legacy more robust. For instance, one theme became clear at the funeral: the deceased had a way of making people laugh, feel comfortable, and feel welcomed. She was not a woman of means, but she used her treasures – her kindness, humor, and easy spirit – to provide to others. That’s a wonderful legacy to leave.

3) Death, unfortunately, inspires the urgency of life.

If something or someone is important to you, then your treatment of them should reflect that importance, and it should be done with a sense of expediency. We like to think that our lives exist in perpetuity, but they don’t. Lives end, seasons change. Feelings, personalities, and goals morph. Moments, and even lives, are fleeting and you cannot control when a moment, experience, or a life will end. You can plan for a lifetime, and only get a month. If you knew that you only had one month with a person, or just to live, how would you treat that month? I choose to cherish it, to enjoy and experience it. Others choose to forego experiencing the month altogether. They think, “Well, if I know it will end, why get involved?” Rather than engage in those feelings, become invested and create those memories, they operate out of fear, instead choosing to close themselves off from opportunities to live, love, and learn. Being faced with death inspires me to experience and appreciate the urgency of life.

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Therefore, I am more open to dealing with the scab that has formed over my relationship with my sister. It is too important not to. But I will do it in the healthiest way possible, and in a way that mends and does not just mask. I will do it in a way that affirms the mutual love and care that we share for each other, but that also recognizes the deep hurt, frustration, mistrust, and divergent views that pervade our kinship. In the end, I cannot force or feign a positive encounter or relationship, and I cannot solely live in our past relationship. Things have changed. However, I can unabashedly affirm my love for my sister. I can acknowledge and assert the urgency of that affirmation.

My life, and yours, is a work in progress. But you must be willing to do the work to see the progress. Think about how you want to be remembered, and get to work on creating that legacy. Today.

In solidarity with your success journey,

TJ