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Tombstones . . . . or, Boy is Memory Short-lived!


 Ever wonder how – or even if – you’ll be remembered after you’re gone? 

A trip to a cemetery once caused me to ponder this question. I’d noticed scores of tombstones holding only the briefest of facts. While a few turn-of-the-century graves housed photos of the deceased or brief references to having served in the military, the rest consisted of engraved text with the equivalent of name, rank and serial number. Didn’t seem to matter whether people had lived 1 year or 100, won a local spelling bee or the Nobel Prize for Peace, they all ended up with similar, limited tag lines and the fading pledge not to be forgotten.

I’d once asked my mother-in-law to share with me some memories of her dad. Her response was brief. “He used to unwrap his Christmas presents and wear them right out of the box.” 

An odd initial response, I mused.  “Really, what else?” I probed enthusiastically.

“They were white button-down shirts.”

Incredulous and certain there were further details to share about her father, I asked in earnest, “Anything more you can tell me?”

“He’d wear the shirts to church, wrinkles and all.”

That was it.  Eighty years on this earth, only one generation postmortem, and the man’s tag line was reduced to, “No need to iron.”

This and other unofficial research has led me to conclude it’s not just average Joes who have problems making their mark with posterity. Even famous forbears fall prey to society’s fading memory and are reduced to a few lines of mental text. Take Christopher Columbus, for example. Most remember from song that in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Students of history will add that Columbus’ fleet consisted of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. How about George Washington? He’s well remembered as being first President of the United States, but, after that, we’re relaying silly things like, “he cut down the family cherry tree,” or, “he appears on the $1 bill”. Wow. Maybe we’re just too busy to remember all their contributions to society, but if neither the discoverer of the New World nor the first figurehead of this nation could garner much of a memory only a few hundred years down the pike, who am I to aspire beyond their notoriety?   

Life is short. The trip often takes us on a bell curve where we peak somewhere in between. We go from Pampers to Depends; from learning our name to being reminded of what it is; and, finally, from being too young to do anything we want – to becoming too old and decrepit to do what we wish we could.  

That day in the cemetery, I made a decision. If ever I get my own tombstone, I’ll limit it to just two words – SHE LOVED. Yes, she loved.  Those two little words would suit me just fine. 

Maura is an International Speaker on Self Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

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