At the End, It's Relationships That Matter Most

We had just returned home from church when I noticed the light flashing on the answering machine. When my late wife Carrie, pushed the button on the answering machine we heard the voice of her mother say, “I’m calling to let you know that your grandmother Helen passed away last night . . . ” Even though the doctors had told us she probably wouldn’t make it through the weekend it was still kind of a shock. As we listened to the rest of the message the reality of her death started to sink in. At the end of the message Carrie’s mom asked if I would be willing to officiate and give a short eulogy at the funeral.

As I sat down to work on the service I knew that in just a few days I would be in the funeral home in Fullerton, Nebraska, in front of family and friends who had just lost a loved one. What would I say about this dear woman who had lived for over 90 years? How do you summarize a person’s life in ten minutes? What would Helen want to be remembered for? What are the kinds of things that her children and grandchildren will remember about her?

As I thought about what I might say I decided to talk with some of the family members to find out what was most significant in their hearts and minds. Their responses were interesting. Do you think they wanted me to talk about the nice house they had, the cars she helped them get, the money she gave to them or the nice gifts she would give for Christmas? No. They surely had enjoyed and appreciated these things but that’s not what was most important. What stood out in their minds were her strength, her kindness and her character. What meant the most to them were the precious memories of time spent together that are indelibly etched on their hearts and minds.

Several years ago I heard a convicting story of the value and importance of making family relationships a priority. A middle-class family in the 40’s had set a family goal of remodeling their old bathroom. After a year of financial sacrifices they finally had enough cash for the project. At the family conference held to pick the colors and finalize the plans one of the children suggested, “Why don’t we use the money for a trip and fix the bathroom next year?” Even though it involved a change in plans, everyone liked the suggestion and that summer they took the money and went to Yellowstone National Park.

With the money spent the saving started all over in order to do the postponed remodeling the next year. When it came time to hire the contractor the family’s conversation drifted to how much they had enjoyed the trip to Yellowstone and the inevitable suggestion surfaced: “Why not put off the bathroom for just one more year and take another family trip?” They all agreed.

This scene was repeated every year from 1940 until 1950 when the youngest son was killed in Korea. On the night before his final battle he wrote a letter to his parents. The letter arrived months after the family had been notified of his death. There was a special emotion as Mom and Dad sat in their living room to read to each other their son’s last words.

It was a touching letter in which the young soldier expressed a premonition that he might soon die. He thanked his folks for their love and the many happy experiences of growing up, especially recalling the annual family trips they all shared. Long silence followed the reading as both quietly wept. The silence was broken when the Dad asked, “Honey, could you imagine a son writing home on the night before he died and saying how glad he was for a fancy new bathroom?”

When 1,500 school children were asked the question, “What do you think makes a happy family?” the most frequent answer was “doing things together.” Over the years I’ve learned that in life it’s not so much what we do for people that impacts them as what we do with them. Someday each one of us will die. Just as I was asked to speak at Helen’s funeral, some day there will be someone who will ask our loved-ones what they want to have said about us. They’ll be asked how they want us to be remembered. What will our loved-ones say? What will stand out as the most meaningful parts of our relationship with them? What memories will they cherish.

If your loved-ones are like most people, it won’t be what you did FOR them. It will be what you did WITH them. It won’t be how much money you spent on them, it will be the memories of the gifts of your time that you gave to them. As you look at the next four weeks, how much time have you set aside for your husband, your wife, your son or daughter, your friends? How much time are you planning to invest in those priceless relationships?

Before you move on to the next article, put the paper down, grab your calendar, get your Day-Timer or whatever else you use to keep you schedule, find a pen or pencil and take a look at the next four weeks. Go ahead, don’t put it off for later. You might forget. This is too important. Now, write in a few “appointments” for one-on-one time, couple time, family time and friend time. I promise you that you’ll be glad you did.

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