What does it take to live a life that matters?
Karen was bold and funny, brave and honest and incredibly loyal to those she loved as a mother, sister, aunty, colleague and dear friend. She was a woman who lived life with authenticity and engaging in honest conversations. It was said, that if you were not ready to hear the truth, then don’t speak to Karen. Yet, she will be remembered for making people feel safe to talk about anything, and her amazing knack to listen and to ask the right questions at the appropriate time – often naming the elephant in the room. This is the kind of friend you can lean into knowing she has your back.
Karen, died on the 19th April last year and due to Covid restrictions at the time, a service was planned for the anniversary of her death. Yesterday, we held a memorial ceremony at the local Steiner School.
For some, it may seem weird to have a memorial ceremony on the weekend in a school hall. Yet this school is a haven for beauty, stories, music and holds an underlying connection to celebrating the cycles and seasons of life and death. It is a place where Karen worked hard supporting the fledgling school get off the ground while her daughter engaged in learning and playing in this extraordinary space.
Karen would have also appreciated the unorthodoxy of celebrating her death in this setting. She liked weird. In fact, she wouldn’t have wanted a sombre party, rather she would have suggested we had a party with lots of dance, fun and food.
We were regaled by some wonderful storytellers including her daughter and her uncle who shared personal insights into her life.
Karen’s best friend is Fijian and they spent many holidays in Fiji. For the laying of flowers around the urn of Karen’s ashes, we played Isa Lei, a traditional Fijian farewell song.
Karen’s daughter asked if I would close the ceremony with this following reflection, Live a Life That Matters, by author, Michael Josephson. I had a few people come up to me afterwards saying how much this reading touched them. One couple said they were struck by the opening sentence and felt quite startled, in a good way. It made them realise they needed to do a few things that they had been putting off.
Ready or not. Ready or not, someday it will all come to an end. There will be no more sunrises, no days, no hours, no minutes. All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance. It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed. Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear. So, too, your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists will all expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away. It won’t matter where you came from, or on what side of the tracks you lived. It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant. Your gender, skin colour, your ethnicity will be irrelevant.
So, what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?
What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave. What will matter is not your success, but your significance. What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught. What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage and sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.
What will matter is not your competence, but your character. What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone. What will matter is not your memories, but the memories of those who loved you. What matters is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.
Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not a matter of circumstance, but of choice. Choose to live a life that matters.
Karen lived a life that mattered. May peace be with you Karen. May peace be with you all.
In true Karen fashion the final song played, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, had people dancing in the hall!