The Birthday/Funeral Gift

Practice of the Week
The Birthday/Funeral Gift

How to Feel Totally Appreciated

"If you wish to live, you must first attend your own funeral."
-Katherine Mansfield

The best present is the gift of love. While love is not something you can package, sell, or put on your shelf for later use, there is a gift you can receive from you friends and family that is the next best thing. The BFG -- "Birthday/Funeral Gift" -- is a gift you ask for from people who care about you. It's a present that can help you feel loved for many years to come. It can pick you up when you're feeling down, and it can send you soaring to new heights when you already feel pretty good.

A good time to ask for this gift is around the time of your birthday. Most people are more than happy to give this gift because it makes them feel good, makes you feel good, and it doesn't cost anything except a few minutes of their time.

I came up with the idea of the Birthday/Funeral Gift when I was having my 33rd birthday. I had recently had a near death experience, and was feeling glad to be alive. I realized that I didn't need or want any material gifts, but instead I wanted the gift of feeling loved and appreciated. Therefore, I invited people who cared about me to a birthday party I was throwing for myself. I told them not to bring gifts and that I would ask them instead to share a favorite story about me at the party.

Once the party had been going awhile, I asked everyone to form a circle. I explained that, as a gift to myself, I wanted everyone to share a favorite memory about their connection with me. I pointed out that at the funeral os deceased loved ones, people usually say wonderful things about the departed. I told my friends and family that, having nearly died recently, I wanted to know while I was still alive what people would say about me at my funeral. If they said them now, I could record their words and listen when I needed inspiration.

People were receptive. I put my recorder on, lay down in the middle of the circle, and closed my eyes. Since my eyes were closed and I didn't have to speak, I could more easily be receptive to what each person had to say.

Some people spoke about me as if they were actually attending my funeral, while others spoke to me more directly. Although I expected my friends and family to say nice things about me, I was surprised to hear the depth of their appreciation and love. I was also amazed by the many personal stories they shared, and the inspiring details of what they appreciated about me. I sat in the middle, motionless, doing my best to drink it all in.

When my Dad began speaking about me, it brought many in the room (including me) to tears. He shared how, of his three kids, he had worried about me the most. He saw how unhappy I was as a child, and was even concerned I might kill myself as a teenager. He then poured out his heart of how proud he was of me now. He shared that he could barely believe that, through many years of working on myself, I had become a person he deeply loved, enjoyed, respected, and looked up to. His words touched my soul. Something inside me relaxed, knowing how loved I was.

After everyone had a turn to share a personal story or appreciation, I was invited to come back to life. I was given many hugs; everyone felt high. I turned off the recorder, and put the recording in a safe place Occasionally, when I feel down or need a boost of love and confidence, I listen to it. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes and a dose of love to my heart.

The BFG can be done in many different ways. It is not necessary that all your friends and family gather in one place in order to benefit from this gift to yourself. An easy alternative is to write a letter to people you love explaining what you would like from them. Tell them that you're looking for a story of appreciation and/or what they would say about you at your funeral. It's a good idea to briefly explain why you want this, and how you will use it as a loving gift to yourself in times of need. In your letter, tell your friends and family in what form you would prefer their contribution: letter, fax, email, or digital audio file. Give them plenty of time to respond before your birthday. You can read (or listen) to them all at once, or savor each one as it arrives at your house.

Thee BFG is perhaps the best present you will ever receive. Unlike the possessions we typically get as gifts, this present can impact you for many years. It can show you that you really do matter in the lives of other people. It can inspire you to give your love and share your gifts with loved ones -- knowing that such things are always noticed and appreciated. The love you feel for others, and the caring they feel for you, shouldn't wait until tragedy hits. Let the healing words and affection flow now, while you and your loved ones can still soak it in. Let this new form of birthday gift help inspire and heal you -- or someone you love.

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  1. For my mom's 70th birthday, I coordinated a gift called the "Flatterbox." I got in touch with everyone she knew - family, friends, former co-workers, neighbors - and asked them to share a memory or two they shared with my mom. The range of stories that came back was incredible! I found a company to print out the memories on playing-card sized pages and gave it as a gift to my mom. She looks through it often. Through the process it occurred to me that these were people who loved my mom and my family, and only needed to be asked to share their love - it's not often that we solicit heartfelt feelings to each other! Thank you for the reminder that we should do this for ourselves and the ones we love.