Reflections Following the Death of a Young Adult

“The purpose of life is not to be happy — but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all.”  — Leo Rosten

I recently attended the funeral of my son's high school classmate. Sammy was 29 years old. As anyone can imagine, it was a sad and sobering experience on many levels. As I watched his parents deal with their grief, I could only imagine how I might be feeling if it was my son  being buried that morning; if all the visions I had formed of my son enjoying successes in his life were taken away; if all my dreams of the family he’d create and nurture turned into the unimaginable nightmare of him being gone forever.  

As a ninth grader and throughout high school, it was evident that Sammy was a gift to the world — a talented athlete, an excellent student, and a caring person who, above all, was devoted to his family, especially his little sister. Sammy lived his short life honestly, productively, ethically, and lovingly. He had a way of always putting others first, even as he suffered greatly from cancer for more than a year. Sammy consistently demonstrated how deeply he cared for his family, his friends, and the greater community.  

As Sammy’s eulogy was so thoughtfully and respectfully delivered by the clergyperson, I was amazed by the significance of the accomplishments this young man had made in his short life. My thoughts then turned inward. As I drove away from the cemetery, I began to wonder if I could ever match up to what young Sammy had already achieved. What will people recall about me as I am memorialized?  

Don’t get me wrong: My goal in life isn’t to make people like me, or remember me in a certain way. But that’s the point. Sammy’s commitment to making the world a better place was never a burden or inconvenience, and it wasn’t work — at least not in the sense that the effort of helping others felt like a chore to get done and over with. It was his way of life; it was an attitude that each small action makes a difference.

I think we all want to make a difference and want to leave the world a better place for having been here, but time gets away from us. Before we know it, we’re another year older with too little to show for it. If you’re like me, though, a simple reminder now and then is enough to get you back on track. So, I decided to write this article in hopes of inspiring others, as Sammy has inspired me. These 10 simple actions are adjustments we can all make in our lives that may just lead to some greater good for the world.

  1. Smile at a stranger. Better yet, do something for that person. Double up on the tip for the waiter or pay the toll for the car behind you.
  2. Use less paper.
  3. Take shorter showers and turn off the water when brushing your teeth or washing dishes.
  4. Stop by or call a local shelter in your area, ask what they need (perhaps diapers or toys for the children, or paper towels and dish soap), and contribute what you can.
  5. Donate — your blood, used clothing, anything that’s needed. Money is good too!
  6. Volunteer. Spend time helping out at local schools, homes for the elderly, or animal shelters.
  7. Cut back on pollution: Walk, bike, or carpool.
  8. Recycle and conserve. Turn off the lights!
  9. Reach out to an old friend. Set up a coffee date, or just have a casual phone catch-up.
  10. Be generous in any way you can. Helping others will change your life.

The world is a better place because of you and me! Now, let’s go prove it.    

Janet Acheatel is Founder of the Women’s Practice at HoyleCohen and a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.

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