Stories, epitaphs and the legacies we leave

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 19, 2003

Many of you approached me in coffee shops or e-mailed me about last week's column on stories and epitaphs.

From Saltspring Island, B.C., world-renowned Virtues Project creator Linda Kavelin-Popov wrote for permission to quote from the column in her soon-to-be-published book dealing, in part, with spiritual companioning. She was touched by the reason the late Don Cooke gave me for wanting me to speak at his funeral: "Because you like my stories."

From outside Toronto, a relative newcomer to our coffee table wrote:

WARREN, your last column was a welcome relief from the many worrisome e-mails I receive discussing the Iraq crisis. I relate to your listening to favourite radio programmes, sitting on a little stool close to the radio.

Ours was an old Fada standing on legs in the dining room of grandfather's house. I remember decoding messages from Little Orphan Annie on the special decoder I'd sent for with those box tops, or immersed in the adventures of Jack Armstrong the All American Boy, or hearing those ominous words, "The Shadow Knows." Simpler times. Loving times. Thank you for bringing them back.

—Thelma Rhynas, Ajax, Ontario

The following note arrived from a long-time Edmonton coffee companion:

WARREN, what an incredible picture you paint whenever you write – and today, this is a very vivid picture. Storytelling is connection, and it makes sense that our stories connect us one to another, and to the Father, also. Bible stories are one tangible connection we have to the Father. And why wouldn't He know of our stories? Only, I have never thought of this before reading your article. Fabulous!

--Leanne Forest, Edmonton

In a similar vein came this note from my mother-in-law, who lives in the beautiful foothills of Western New York State:

WARREN, I was listening to my favorite radio preacher the other day, Chuck Swindoll, when he remarked, "I never knew a really great preacher who didn't know how to tell a good story." Well, that's what Jesus did, and left us a great example.

—Dorothy Baldwin, Gerry, New York

Our final letter is from a reader who faced her own mortality some years ago when diagnosed with breast cancer. She now assists others in similar situations:

GREAT COLUMN, Warren! Listening to the stories of people I serve and with whom I work is the heart of my everyday life. I believe that stories are a part of the legacy we leave. I read once that "Greatness comes by beginning something that does not end with you." I think that's why I'm still around; there are still so many beginnings in my life and so many people to help continue their journey.

Reading your column reminded me of the many interesting epitaphs my husband and I have read while walking through old gravesites across the continent. Unfortunately, we never wrote them down. I wonder if your readers would share some that they found interesting – or maybe we should be thinking of what we'd like on our own, as you did.

My thoughts about this have changed over the years. Particularly after cancer, one changes the mind about what is important in life. Strange how my "To Do List" with things like having the cleanest and neatest house took a back seat to that of looking to the quality of my life and trying to make a difference for at least one person each day. Today I think my epitaph would say something like this: "She was known for each day celebrating the gift of life – but not known for having the neatest house in the block."

—Barbara Cameron, Patient Advocate, Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Calgary

When I mentioned Barb's interest in epitaphs to Cochrane artist Ann Manning, Ann couldn't resist sharing with me one of her all-time favorites: "I told you I was sick!"

Serious or silly, what do the rest of you have to say about epitaphs?

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page