In August of 2022, I received the devastating news that my sister and her husband were killed in a car accident. If you’ve experienced the passing of loved ones, you know how such events can change everything in your own life. Certainly, this shock became a profound game-changer for me.
Just a couple days before that tragedy, I happened to read an article that affected me deeply. It was so impactful that it inspired me to volunteer to lead a special discussion in one of my networking groups. But the very next day after I had volunteered, the news came of Diana’s death.
The following eulogy that I wrote for my sister’s memorial service explains how reading that article and experiencing the horrifying event so soon after, revealed to me the absolute necessity of living authentically, embracing life on our own terms, and staying true to ourselves and free of regrets.
The poem, The Dash, is often read during eulogies, so most of you are keenly aware of the message. On tombstones is our date of birth, our date of death - both of these are separated by a little dash - and the poem goes on to say:
“… what mattered most of all was the dash between those years”
That little dash represents our accomplishments in our professional and personal lives as seen by our family and friends. It could be who we were as a person. Our characteristics. Were we loyal, funny, thoughtful? A leader, a supporter, an innovator? Was any time spent volunteering or helping and nurturing other people?
There is absolutely no doubt that Diana and Bruce made the most of their “dash.” They touched so many lives.
They were remarkably generous with their time and talents, often stepping up and taking volunteer leadership roles – the most difficult of all volunteer positions.
When Diana and Bruce moved to Phoenixville in 2017, they immediately volunteered for the Phoenixville Area Time Bank. A year later, in 2018, Diana started serving as the organization's President. The Time Bank recently said, “Diana and Bruce provided capable and dedicated leadership to the Time Bank and were the ‘glue’ that held things together. They attended nearly every event, held virtual events during the pandemic, helped countless members, forged new partnerships in the community, and managed the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the Time Bank's operations.”
Before that, I remember Diana being volunteer regional director of Destination Imagination – an organization with the mission to inspire young people to imagine and innovate today so they become the creative and collaborative leaders of tomorrow.
On a more personal level, I couldn’t imagine a better partner to help deal with our older brother Joe’s dying process a few years ago. We divvied up all the tasks needed to help Joe get the care and housing he needed, while cleaning out his apartment. It felt like an Amazing Race Episode at times, and I remember thinking to myself how great an Amazing Race teammate Diana would make.
I recently discovered a post entitled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. This was written by a hospice nurse, Bronnie Ware, who counselled the dying in their last days. It revealed the most common regrets people express at the end of life.
This post spoke so strongly to me that I offered to lead a discussion about the list of regrets with one of my weekly networking groups. It stunned me when, less than two days later, the truth in that article would become instrumental in helping me grieve the loss of my sister Diana.
Here’s my summary of the top 5 regrets of the dying, and how the post impacted my thoughts about Diana and her husband Bruce.
- "I wish I hadn't worked so hard." Diana was passionate about both her professional and volunteer work, especially when it involved helping other people. As someone shared on the memory board, “You...worked hard, played hard and enjoyed both equally.”
- "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings." The author of the post said that when people suppress their feelings in order to keep peace with others, this often leads to resentment and can even result in illness from hiding away your emotions. Diana rarely told me and our older sister that she loved us. But that didn’t matter to me because I knew she loved me. Her actions spoke volumes.
- "I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends." Just as the Time Bank called Bruce and Diana the “glue” that held things together, the same was true of Diana keeping in contact with old friends and family. Diana was a connector. Even when just driving through the city of a friend or colleague, she would reach out and see if they were available for a quick meet up. She was always reminding me of our family connections, encouraging collaboration. Those three regrets are impactful for sure, but I saved the most powerful two for last.
- "I wish that I had let myself be happier."
- "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." Diana (and Bruce) had these both mastered. The article confirmed for me that to be truly happy is to be authentic, and this means knowing oneself and standing up for one’s beliefs. Diana was the poster child for personal authenticity.
Destination Imagination competitions include Instant Challenges where the kids are given a written challenge and they have to figure things out as quickly and creatively as possible. Diana would approach any problems she had in her life as an Instant Challenge, which she faced with positivity and a determination to overcome adversity.
Diana was absolutely not afraid to ask the difficult questions or provide very difficult feedback. Perhaps this is what made her so successful while delivering difficult feedback to senior management teams during her ISO auditing engagements.
Two words I would use to describe Diana: Change AgenT. She was never afraid to challenge the status quo. Nor was she afraid to break the rules of social norms and do things outside the box.
I have watched her in leadership roles, asking people to volunteer or step outside their comfort zone. People might question or even get offended by her requests because some of those appeals were WAY out there. But Diana recognized real needs and figured out how to meet them.
Living in her own authenticity, she thought nothing of asking people seriously direct questions to get what she needed. I used to laugh when our older sister, Cindy, would call Diana “a bull in a china shop,” because I could see what she meant. There might be a little breakage, but Diana knew EXACTLY how to get the job done. One of her superpowers was the ability to draw others into her sphere.
I believe my sister Diana led a very happy life. Yeah, I’m sure she had her own challenges just like we all do, but she certainly didn’t let them ruin her day.
No one can argue that she led a very FULL life. One of the phrases she spoke often was “just one more thing!” She was always trying to fit 12 pounds of sugar in a 10 pound bag. And she often succeeded!
For me, Diana and Bruce’s passing is the ultimate reminder that life is short, and that it is important (and possible) to live a life without regrets.
With their passing they bequeathed this amazing gift to me: from this point forward I, too, will endeavor to live a life without regret.
That the 5 regrets post came to my attention just before the auto accident now seems preordained, even heaven-sent.
I cannot ignore the synchronicity of this gift, sent in so timely a manner.
What about you? How important are things like authenticity, your true emotions, and avoiding regret in your life? Do you feel like you’re being true to yourself or are you settling for something less? Have you considered what is really and truly important, and thought about configuring your life to cultivate those things?
Thank you, my wonderful sister, for your shining example.