It seems like there are zombies and vampires in and on everything these days but that is not what I’m talking about when I say to treat your kids and spouse like they’re dead. I’m not giving license for ignoring your family either.
I’ve noticed a beautiful trend and pattern in how people regard their loved ones that have recently passed away. The ironic thing is that it seems to be a healthier way of engaging with others than often is the case between people in life.
I recently attended a funeral of a good family friend. It was a beautiful service, complete with memories, favorite music and a life sketch packed with stories that left his grandchildren in awe of their grandfather’s achievements.
I remember my own father’s funeral and the mixed feelings of sadness and love. There was one particularly touching part of my father’s funeral when my oldest brother recounted the story that seemed to stand as a testament of what my father’s life was all about. The story itself was a kind of monument that etched in the hearts and minds of those that listened, an immortal depiction of who my Dad was. The story went something like this…
My father had not been well for several years before his death and his health had become progressively worse over his last few months. He struggled to walk or stay active without serious effort and discomfort, but that rarely stopped him from being with those he loved and doing the things that he loved. What he loved more than anything else was his family and helping others. The weekend before my Dad’s death he was found putting in a new wood floor in my oldest brother’s house. He was the only one that knew what he was doing and so the brunt of the work fell upon him. He slaved away all day, only stopping for a short time for lunch and to watch a college football game with my brothers. They all had a wonderful time and the floor was down by the time the sun went down. My brother stated that his floor in his home was a tangible symbol of my father’s love and service and he would always remember that.
I love this story and it is a wonderful description and monument to my father but by this story alone you may get the feeling that my Dad walked on water. He was a great Dad but he made mistakes just like the rest of us. I’ve noticed some fantastic patterns over the years since my father’s funeral about how we treat the dead that I feel could teach us some great things about how to treat the living.
5 Ways to treat your family like they’re dead, in a good way!
1. People accentuate the positive: At funerals people recognize all the good in that person. They see things that maybe they never saw before. The ordinary becomes extraordinary. The daily things they did with or for us shine like jewels. We see them more clearly, more positively. Instead of looking at their large nose, we look past to their brilliant blue eyes. Instead of remembering the moments of irritation, we remember the laughter. We can learn to seek and see the positive and acknowledge it with the living now. We can focus on the positive, the beautiful, the child, the person! We can finally see them with real clarity.
2. People regard even their faults with a sense of appreciation and endearment: It’s finally OK that the person wasn’t perfect. I attended a funeral where people talked about the person’s harsh demeanor and physical roughness with fondness. They laughed and talked about how they would miss the man’s handshakes that almost crushed your hand or his hugs that required you went to a chiropractor afterwards. I had heard those same individuals complain about those things only weeks before. People regard people’s faults as personalized quirks that made them different and enriched the relationship rather than something that cause annoyance. We can look at the little faults that our kids and our spouse have and regard them as something endearing and laugh at them now rather than curse them and become angry about them.
3. People compliment them: I tell parents in counseling that compliments are relationship candy, only they don’t make you fat. Compliments flow like water at funerals. “He was so handsome. She was so kind. He had such talent for building things. She was so creative.” You hear words and phrases about their loved one that were so sparse during their life. We can learn to give compliments freely now.
4. People bury the hatchet along with the person: Hard feelings seem to evaporate. Forgiveness for past wrongs expands and envelops heart of people when they attend a funeral. Often times families that have been broken by disputes and harsh feelings even find it in their hearts to reconcile and forgive in the wake of a family member’s passing. We need not wait years, months, weeks or even days to forgive. Our lives are stressful enough as it is. Forgiveness frees the forgiver more than the one being forgiven and can allow our days to be free of the flood of stress and hurt from days past.
5. People genuinely long for them: The first couple weeks after my father died, I used to call my parents house and hope my Mom wouldn’t pick up just so I could hear my Dad’s voice on their answering machine again. Come to find out later, my Mom didn’t change the greeting on the answering machine for a long time just so she could listen to his voice as well. So often with our kids, we are seeking ways to get out, to get away. Although time away from family can be healthy, it can also be healthy to long to be with them again: to build a relationship and atmosphere at home that draws you to it rather than repels you. We can learn and put into action things that make home and family a refuge and make our family relationships energizing now.
Whenever I attend a funeral and hear these things and see these patterns again and again, I wish and pray that those people that have passed away are standing nearby. I hope that they can feel the love of their loved ones gathered in their behalf. I hope and pray that those remaining will treat those that are left behind with all of the respect, kindness and joy that they show the deceased. You may say, “but its not that easy. The dead don’t talk back.” Yes, this makes it more difficult but, that is all the more reason to treat them with the five true principles above.
It would serve our families well to learn to treat our children and our spouse like they are dead, for when we treat the living like the dead, we have heaven on earth!
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