How Would You Like to be Remembered?

Some people try for financial success, some for fame, others for happiness. But what about after? Thus arises a question. What might you want to be remembered for? I asked 58 of my friends. Forty-three put their words together for me. My response is also included.

Here is a selection of the answers I received. Each prefaced by a word or two from me (in bold), with a few other comments along with way. I’m going to begin with the response of the only stranger, the actor John Malkovitch. His recently published interview prompted this essay.*

  • Malkovitch: By my friends as hopefully someone who was a good friend, or at least amusing, but I don’t need to be remembered by people I don’t know.
  • A fierce protector of his family: As crafty and cunning – like a fox. Nobody messes with a fox.
  • A woman of conscience: As having been a person whose children were her highest priority, and whose husband and friends joined her children as her dearest treasures, for whom learning and growing were essential parts of her life, who tried to do the right thing in both ordinary and difficult situations, who tried to understand and be kind and compassionate, who made mistakes and tried to learn from them and make amends for them, who tried to be mindful of and was often grateful for both the obvious and the less visible blessings in her life, and who loved as well and as deeply as she could.
  • An ecumenical reply: As someone who cared deeply about people, and who tried in his own way to make the world a better place for as many people as possible. As the expression goes, “God Bless The Whole World. No Exceptions.”
  • Fathers: After my wonderful father died, my younger brother said he could feel my father’s love moving through him, as he felt so much love for his own children. I would like to be remembered for honoring my father’s legacy with the same hope, that he lingers on as we pass his name to our children and grandchildren and love all of them in the way we were loved by our father.
  • A man’s man: Honest, fair, loving, successful, a survivor.

This is not a scientific survey. It is, however, a pretty good sample of what my friends think. Who are my friends? A well-educated, mostly liberal crowd who are more than usually successful as it is defined in America. This is not a particularly diverse group. The age range begins with a few people in their 30s and many more who are seniors. Just a few more women responded than men, and this selection reflects the same proportion. I’m grateful to all who answered.

  • A quiet man of depth: As a man of integrity, respected – with few acquaintances, but for those close friends a deep and lasting friendship.
  • An answer which nobody can deny: a fun guy to be around.
  • The importance of trying: I always thought I’d like “A for Effort” on my gravestone. I guess I’d like to be remembered as warm, caring, funny, and smart. A good woman and a good (doctor) and a good wife.
  • Two strong women:
    • As a woman who questioned authority and conventional wisdom and who saw people as individuals beyond established categories.
    • As a person of integrity who was prepared to pay the price for standing up for her values and principles. (Both of these women paid the price).
  • Getting to the essentials: A nice guy. If they can’t say that about me, nothing else really matters. And, if they can say that about me, then nothing else really matters.
  • The value of joy: He enjoyed life and helped others do the same.
  • A quotation: “Changing the world is good for those who want their names in books. But being happy, that is for those who write their names in the lives of others, and hold the hearts of others as the treasure most dear.” From Orson Scott Card’s Children of the Mind (1996), the fourth book in his Ender’s Game series.
  • A gentle soul: I want to be remembered in a kind, soft, and compassionate way.
  • Beauty: I’d like to be remembered as an honest guy who did his best. A lover of music and all things beautiful.

You might wonder why the answers are short and why the response rate was high. Here is how I posed the email to which my sample responded:

I’m preparing a blog post on the question, “How would you like to be remembered?” I’d be grateful for a very quick answer. One or two sentences only. Not a word more. Your first impression. If it takes you more than three minutes, it won’t be a first impression. Your identity will be masked in both the blog post and any private conversation I have about the essay. No problem if you’d rather not reply. But, as I say, do it straight away if you’d like to do it.

  • Someone sweet: Every once in a while, I would like my family and close friends to hear a song, see a painting, smell a perfume, or remember a phrase and say to themselves: ”What a great memory. You know, she really made me feel loved.”
  • Living in the present: I don’t care whether I’m remembered.
  • A man who knows what he wants: He always insisted on finding the real problem.
  • From a wise counselor. Lawyer or therapist? You might be surprised: As one providing an ear more than a mouth.
  • A lover: I’d like to be remembered as a kind person who truly loved people and who always loved to learn – no matter the subject.
  • Let’s be frank: As a decent enough person who didn’t f **k up my kids too badly! And hopefully, I’ll have done some things to make the world a little better.

The most commonly used words were honesty, integrity, family, friends, love, and some version of the phrase “making the world a better place.” Many of those who offered such words were not included in this selection of comments in order avoid repetition. No one mentioned the word money. No one cared about their name in history books or hoped for lasting fame. If you can hear it, my friends, I am applauding you all.

  • A man with lots of awards who knows their real value: As a good person, good dad, good friend. With now a moment’s reflection, you should be able to evaluate your own professional life. The doodads you put on the wall or the desk don’t mean much.
  • The salt of the earth: Family, friend, honest, funny, Chicago, California, Texas, 2016 Cubs!
  • Someone who lives by these words, though born in 1947: As a funny, cultured pre-World War One gentleman.
  • The Hippocratic Oath from a non-physician: I’d like to be remembered as someone who cared about the well-being of others and was concerned to do no harm.
  • A survivor and more: Wonder woman-like. I’d like to be remembered for not only triumphing over traumatic adversity, but also utilizing that information to help others in some meaningful way.
  • Saving the planet: As someone who listened and tried to understand and as someone who made a very small difference to improve the lives of humans and animals. And as someone who respected nature.
  • A mom: As the creator of my family: what I brought together.
  • Last words: How would I like to be remembered? With love by those I loved.

—–

*This essay was inspired by a question Rosanna Greenstreet asked John Malkovich, as published in The Guardian on March 10, 2018. His answer is above and the full article is here: Rosanna Greenstreet/

19 thoughts on “How Would You Like to be Remembered?

  1. This was such a fun read, Dr. S! And here I thought you were going to use some sort of psychological analysis (Jungian-based,personality-based, or otherwise) to describe responses. I laughed at some responses and could totally relate to many others. What made me sad though was reading one person’s response: “I don’t care whether I’m remembered.” – which you tagged as “Living in the present.” Although I have no idea who said that response, nor any background info on whomever said that response, I’d remember that statement from whomever said it. Perhaps the person who responded that way is modest, humble, spiritual (perhaps Buddhist maybe), etc. Or perhaps the person who responded that way was in a difficult place (emotionally, spiritually, circumstantially, etc.), whereby considering the future or how even our actions now might affect how we will remembered in the afterlife may be too painful. (I’m sorry about my own analyzing that statement, if the person is reading it. Nevertheless, it touched my heart, and made me think whether or not I’m completely off about that type of response, which appeared to be unique from the rest. It made me feel sad because it sounded like the person was sad or struggling with the “I don’t care” words that preceded the rest of that sentence. I’d care, and I don’t even know the person. Honestly, I’m going to pray for whomever that person is to know that people care about remembering people they’ve encountered in their life – even in virtual life, and even in quotes like that. It’s like reading a book or watching the movie and forming some attachment to that book or movie, therefore the fictional or non-fictional characters in the book and movie, including the words, and the attachment to the writers, producers, authors, etc., of such productions. The one person who made that statement stood out for me – particularly because I’ve had friends and family members whom I’ve known who would answer in a similar way, and so those words made me think and feel sad, and then prompted my response to pray for that person, whomever that may be.) My thoughts overall: Even though we don’t know who these people are who made the quotes, it’s interesting how our answers are similar and different in many ways, and how our own thoughts about how we’d like to be remembered may or may not match exactly with how people will actually remember us when that time actually comes. How do people remember us while we’re still alive? After we’ve passed away? Do we consider that in our actions today? Do we only consider that in our actions in a certain stage of life, such as being middle-aged or above, or at the peak of our careers when we wonder what other things we can do in life after we’ve achieved what we wanted for ourselves? (Now to read the article you cited at the end.)

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    • As always, your comments are wonderfully thoughtful. Two responses to your particular concern about one of the people who I quoted. First, you are very dear to pray for him/her. Second, to the best of my incomplete knowledge, no one here is in imminent danger of self-harm, though their moment to moment happiness might well be unknown to me. Also, take a look at what Suzuki wrote as a counterpoint to your own comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and the John Malkovitch interview. Thanks, PP.

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  2. OMG, that actor Malkovitch – he’s totally awesome in RED and RED2 (the movies). I didn’t know him by name, to be honest. He’s so funny in the movies and such a talented actor!

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  3. Hi! A minister and friend said of my old therapist whom I’ve told you about many times “He is a good man”. Simple, but very special sentiment.

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  4. People will remember you as they see you today….and everyone sees you differently. When I’m gone, I also don’t care how people remember me. To be honest, I’ll be glad not to have to worry about how I want people to see me, what people think of me. Bring it on!

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    • Perhaps you will get to the point of being less concerned about outside opinions in this life. Here is a quote from Marcus Aurelius (the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher), that might be of interest: “I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.” Thanks for providing a counterpoint to Peace Penguin, Suzuki.

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    • Your point makes sense, Suzuki. You have a lot of strength, and it’s also not good to worry about what others’ think. I do that too much in my own life. But there is some give and take to what others’ think – to get the job, to make relationships work, etc. – it takes knowing how we impact others in some way, but still being our authentic self at the same time. Even just a smile or a small kindness is huge to some people, or even being broken and being told by another broken person that they don’t feel so alone anymore is huge for both of us. When I was at the lowest points in my life, what kept me going was my existential belief that we matter in this world, and there’s so much we do (regardless of job titles or anything else) that impacts the world and those around us. I’m far from being stoic, and there’s a strength in that. But I also believe there is a strength to revealing emotions and vulnerabilities when it helps us show our human sides – however prehistoric or uncivilized it may be, however weak it may be perceived. There’s a beauty in the different ways people relate, and there’s a definite beauty to the words you say. Your words are strong, and meaningful.

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  5. A lovely read. Made me wish I knew some of these people – particularly the ‘two strong women’.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I just know how I felt when people I loved dearly in my life passed away. My best friend was 14 years old when she was murdered by some guy. She was found dead in an alley. I was supposed to hang out with her that night, but I had to work (with a permit) at the young age of 13. When I heard the news from her family, not only did I experience survivor’s guilt, but I also cherished every moment I could remember with her and about her. She impacted my life in many ways, and today, many people impact my life. I’m sure I impact others’ lives on a small level. Those things I’ll always remember about people who have impacted me or the world in some way. Remembering, to me, is savoring. I savor all the good and even not so good things about my best friend. It may have differed from how she wanted to be remembered, but she didn’t even get the chance at a life to fulfill all the dreams she and I spoke about to be able to impact the world and her own self. I have cherished that attachment I had with her, which saved me so many times as a child when I was dealing with being abused at home. I held on to what I could remember about the person and how the person’s actions with or without me impacted me. I’m impacted by Robin Williams, even though I don’t know him other than his fictional characters. Since my best friend’s death, I believed that what I do in this life matters (and my own personal shortcomings and mistakes also matter). I care about the people whom I’d leave behind if I were to pass on. I care about my daughter’s belief and impact on me, not because of my feelings, but rather because I want her to feel secure in her own feelings, and to know that she’s okay and has the freedom to view me however she needs or wants to. But my actions today impact the memories of others. My best friend’s actions impacted the way I felt when she was no longer there. If I ever passed on, I’d care about the feelings of those who would miss me. I would want them to say that she (PP) would want them to joke, laugh, cry, and do whatever they had to deal with the pain of loss/etc., but to know that I would have wanted them to do something meaningful with their life and move on – not to be stuck at the loss of someone’s death. I would never want them to feel guilty, but I would want them to live life to the fullest. If I were on my deathbed and spoke to my daughter, that is what I would say to her. Anyway, when I think about being remembered, I think of death, the pain of it, and the loss involved in losing someone you love. I wished my actions were different before my best friend passed, and I wished I could have saved her. I never had a best friend after that.

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    • You are quite a remarkable creature, PP, in the best possible way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Dr. S. I feel bad now for my comments if I had said anything that was offensive. I realize that I have my own shortcomings to deal with, and one of those is my worrying about what others think, which is mixed in with trauma. Then another is my labile emotions, which include passion. I wish I were more stoic, but that’s just not me. I admire all the people who value stoicism, whom I’ve met in my life and in the military. I am just not that person, which is to say that is why I’ve had to leave careers that I knew were not “me,” and instead go for careers. But I love the differences in people. When I watch shows like Homeland, ALIAS, RED, Burn Notice, Dexter, Good Witch, and MONK, which are all my faves (and I’ll admittedly watch reruns of them right along with the ’80s movies or music), I see the benefit of stoicism. When I see my friends in service, in law enforcement, or in really tough jobs, I see the benefit in stoicism. My traumatic experiences have changed me. I’m not stoic or tough anymore, and that’s okay. I’m not the “hero” archetype I’d like people to see in me, but I am a bottle of emotions ready to sympathize, empathize, romanticize, or analyze. I’ve redefined myself in accordance to my new limitations. I wish I were tough again, but that’s a loss I’m still trying to get over.

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  7. I took no offense. I do think the Stoics offer some wisdom about life, but I sure do not live a Stoic life as they imagined it in antiquity. So, rest easy, PP.

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    • Thank you, Dr. S. I do use some stoic tools to regulate my emotions, I think. So that’s a plus. I’m still learning about all this stuff, so stoicism is on my list of “to learn.”

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  8. What an undertaking, Dr. Stein! The results of your limited non-scientific survey got a 74% response. You did not mention the percentage of participants by age and gender, which could affect the response.

    Nevertheless, it’s interesting to note that honesty, integrity, family, friends, love, and some version of the phrase “making the world a better place” were the most common words used in the responses. We need money to survive and, in some professions, the trappings of success. But, deep in our hearts, we know that they are not the end-all of life well lived.

    These results give me hope for the survival of our species.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad to give you some hope, Rosaliene. Sometimes I write things to give myself some hope, too. I did mention age and gender in passing, but I can give slightly more detail re: age, because the vast majority were middled-aged or seniors. As I said, there were only a few more females than males. No one should take any of this as gospel. These are the people I know. They don’t represent much else, but perhaps give some food for thought on the main question and, I hope, provoke a few readers to ask themselves that question. Their answer is the only one that ultimately counts.

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  9. This was an interesting piece for me. I think about death and dying a lot but, oddly, rarely in terms of how I might like to be remembered. Mostly I wonder about the people I have known who have died and, of course, where are they? What are they? How are we connected if, in fact, we are connected? The universe (on both a macro and micro level) is so complex and there’s no way I can figure it out but , never mind, I try anyway.
    It’s interesting to me how, how once a person dies, I often see them differently than I did when they were here. I don’t know if that makes sense. I’ll be specific. I didn’t know my dad well mostly, I think, because he was of that generation who was taught not to reveal much. He died twenty some years ago and, during the years he’s been gone, I’ve come to know him more through others’ comments and thoughts about who he was. My spouse’s mother also died twenty some years ago and now I look back on my time with her with much wiser and more compassionate eyes. A very good friend died unexpectedly ten years ago and I do believe I am closer to him in death than I was in life (and we were close). How is that possible?
    So, how would I want people to remember me? Well, I know they will because I remember the people who have died (emphasis on I). As the years go by, the people who were connected to me will die and their memories will die with them and, finally , I will be really dead. Which is fine with me….. I actually give some credibility to the notion that we might live more than one life. Kinda makes sense to me but that’s more of that complexity that I refuse to ignore. And so HOW do I want them to remember me? I guess with kindness. I want them to believe that I did the best I could do given the tools that I had. I want them to turn wiser and more compassionate eyes on me in the way that I have learned to do. Mostly, I want them to remember that they mattered to me and that I treated them with kindness.

    Thanks for, as always, a thoughtful post. I appreciate that you often make me think.

    Out here on the Northern CA coast, we have had a seemingly endless gray, soggy, cold winter. No, not Chicago cold but gray and dismal. Across the board people are in a funk b/c of the constant gray. BUT, today? Today it is a blue sky day and the forecast is for a (mostly) blue sky week. Hallelujah!

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    • Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful and interesting comments, JT. One funny thing. I don’t know whether I’ve written this before, but I remember a college girlfriend I was crazy about commented more than once that I “made her think.” Of course, she dumped me, which must prove something. Not sure what. Though Ibsen’s, “The Wild Duck,” makes the point that we couldn’t survive without some “life lies.” If so, thinking too much would be most uncomfortable for us as individuals without any such lies.

      I, too, continue to learn things about people long after I’ve seen them or they’ve departed this mortal coil. Perhaps it is perspective, perhaps it is growing over time. Glad you had a good day out in California. It is spring and baseball begins this week, both good things for me. As I mentioned to another therapist the other day, life is some combination of strange, awful, and wonderful. And there are scientists who believe, as you do, that every possible life will be lived involving someone with the same combination of genes. Fortunately or unfortunately, they also believe this is the only one we will be aware of. If I had a second life, much as I’ve been fortunate in the one I have, I’d make it at least a bit different. Take care, JT.

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