cemeteryA lot of people don’t know this, but I spent over six years working in a mortuary with my husband.  It’s true.  It was just a strange twist of fate, really.  I was considering a new job at the same time they were looking for someone to work in the office.  Looking back, I’m so glad that we found each other.

I quickly learned to love that job, not only because of the perks, but because of the people.  Since I sat at the front desk, I met every family that came through the door.  I learned their stories, and I helped them in every way that I possibly could. 

I also organized the funeral home’s widow and widower’s group while I was there, and met some of the most amazing ladies you could ever meet.  I loved listening to their stories- how gas only cost a quarter, or how they coped when their husbands went away to war.  I learned that the older generation has so much wisdom to offer, yet few people take the time to listen.  Of course, it was my job to listen, but I soon realized it was a gift as well.  Here are a few of the lessons I learned during my time in the funeral industry:

We’re Creating Our Own Stories

Funerals aren’t only about death; they’re about celebrating a life once lived.  And in most cases, families shared their loved one’s story by creating picture boards or a memorial slideshow.  Seeing people’s memories on display made me wonder what kind of memories would be shared at my own funeral.  The truth is, I’m deciding what memories will be shared with every choice I make. 

Experiencing so many celebrations of life made me realize that I have the power to create the life I want, not only for myself, but for my husband and children. The truth is, I’m creating my own story, just as you are creating your own.  When I look back on my life, I want to see adventure and excitement.  I want to know that I took risks.  I want to look my children in the eyes and know that I did everything I could for them.  I want no regrets.

What If I Die Young?

At the mortuary, I learned that young and tragic death is far more prevalent than people think.  The thing is, it usually doesn’t affect you unless it happens to someone you know.  But, now I know better.  I witnessed unimaginable grief at work every single day- young fathers killed in car accidents, full-term babies who died at birth, childhood cancer, or worse.

I learned that it can happen to anyone.  All it takes is a wrong turn, a cruel twist of fate, or one moment of carelessness for life to be over in an instant.  And if it’s going to happen, no one can stop it.  But I can control the life I live at this very moment, and so can you.  If I die today, tomorrow, or next year, I want to know that I’ve lived life to the fullest, and that everyone I love knows it.

What If I Don’t?

Dying young is unlikely for most of us, and that’s why it’s important to plan for the future.  Embracing today is one thing, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of your future self.  One thing I learned is that people who fail to plan for their future often spend the end of their lives penniless.  It is a sad truth.  Imagine working your whole life then realizing that you cannot retire, or that you’ll have to spend your retirement squeaking out an existence on social security alone.

My time in a mortuary made me realize that I want to have options in retirement.  I don’t want to struggle or wish that I had done things differently.  That’s part of the reason we take retirement saving so seriously, and why you should too.  Sure, you might die young, but what if you don’t?  It’s a delicate balance; living for today yet making decisions that are kind to your “future self.”  But with proper planning, it is possible to do both.

All We Have is Time

A recently-widowed woman once told me something that changed my life:   “I would give  anything to have my husband back for just one day. I would trade every  dollar I have, my home, and everything I own,” she said.

I can imagine feeling that way when I’m old and grey.  Money is an important tool to get us through life, but the really important things cannot be bought or sold.  This woman, and many others, made me realize that I’m living in the prime of my life.  This time with my husband and young children is irreplaceable.  And, once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Money buys life’s necessities and pleasures, but it can’t buy more time with the ones we love.  My time in the mortuary serves as a reminder that each moment that ticks by is one we’ll never get back.  So, for now, I’m going to continue creating my own story.  I’m going to live in the moment, but also be kind to my future self.  I have many goals, but my main goal is to make sure I’ve created a life worth living, not only for myself but for my kids as well.

Sure, I’ve got money, but all I’ve really got is time. 

And I’m going to make it count.