Today’s blog is by Susan Schoenbeck, MSN, RN.* She’s a loyal member of this community and a frequent contributor. How grateful I am that she shared this article with us.
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” – Nelson Mandela
Do you look back on your life and wonder how you will be remembered? One joy of life is discovering who we are. Another is to be happy with who we’ve become. For some, it is very clear. Many people find it helpful to periodically review what they are doing with their lives. A life always leads to a story. As a Clinical Nurse Specialist for Death and Spiritual Care at a large university hospital, I listened to people on their deathbeds. While breathing in synchrony with the dying, holding their hands, I heard many stories. Many hoped they had succeeded in becoming someone their family members and others would honor for those values they endeavored to show in their daily lives. As I sat with loved ones left behind, they often recounted to me remembrances of the deceased by telling me stories of shared experiences. These folks talked about how they admired the values like kindness, generosity, humor, and honesty their loved one showed to them. At other times, silence shrouded the time around deaths. Loved ones shared no stories. Instead, often under their breaths, they quibbled amongst themselves about what to list about the deceased in an obituary.


Benjamin Franklin is well known for writing down thirteen values he wanted to play out in his life. He felt that knowing his values would drive how he lived his life. People would say Franklin was successful at becoming who he wanted to be. I conducted a project to find out how people wanted to be remembered. The research began with focused groups spanning ages, cultures, and socio-economic groups. Participants were asked: “What do you want to be remembered for when you die?” After months of gathering answers, I collated them into a list of 110 items representing the most commonly expressed values for which a person would want to be remembered. Over 600 participants read through the list and checked off 6 to 10 values most important to them. There was space to write in values not listed. Drawing from research results, it became clear that most of us want our loved ones to know the values we tried to live out in our daily lives. Seventy-six percent of women and sixty-nine percent of men respondents said so. And at the same time, I knew from being at the bedside of the dying that oftentimes the values people wanted to embody and pass on were not shared.

A memory

We all are destined to become a memory in the hearts and lives of those who knew us. We can take heed from Franklin when he said: “Get your values written down, share them, and then live a life that matches who you have decided you are.” Living your values is a sure way to pass on to those who follow what kind of person you believe it is important to be. By doing so, there will be no question who you became in this life.

Values Study Results

Here is a snapshot of the views of respondents as to the values they held most dear and tried to act out in their daily lives.

Being a good friend: The top choice of all age groups except for men 65 and older who chose honesty as their number one value. Fifty-one percent of women and 43 percent of men chose being a good friend as how they wanted most to be remembered.

Being a good parent: Chosen by 22 percent of women and 12 percent of men.

Care of family: Highly regarded by all age groups. Forty-three percent of women and 35 percent of men chose this.

Creativity: Chosen by 26 percent of the males and 20 percent of the females.

Empathy: Chosen by thirty-six percent of women and 17 percent of men.

Faithfulness: Men and women were closely split on this value (29 percent and 30 percent, respectively).

Fairness: Men voiced caring about this value more than women (29 percent to 22 percent, respectively).

Generosity: More women than men wanted to be remembered for this value, 29 percent compared to 20 percent.

Hard work: Hard work was chosen by men (31 percent) and women (25 percent).

Helping others: Women (30 percent) and men (27 percent) valued this quality.

Honesty: Thirty-seven percent of women compared with 33 percent of men chose this value.

Intelligence: Chosen by 13 percent of women and 18 percent of men.

Kindness: Thirty-eight percent of women chose this trait versus 21 percent of men.

Love of God, love of fellow men/women: Love of God scored higher than love of fellow man/woman. Thirty percent of women and 26 percent of men chose love of God. Twenty-one percent of men and 20 percent of women chose love of fellow men/women.

Team player versus tough negotiator: Fifteen percent of men and 11 percent of women valued being a team player. Only a handful of men and women chose being a tough negotiator.

Patriotism: Chosen by three percent of women and 12 percent of men.

Making lots of money: Less than one percent of women and men picked this as a value for which they wanted to be remembered.

If you would like the list of 102 values, please reply to this article and I will send it. You too can identify your top 5-10 (I had 11). Note: The Values Survey was something my Spiritual Practitioner, The Rev Larry King, had me do this summer. I found it deeply helpful.  Love all around, above, below, to the left and to the right, before you and behind you,  Georgena  P.S. – *Schoenbeck is author of five books including Good Grief: Daily Meditations and Heaven and Angels and many peer-review national and international journal articles. She volunteers teaching online. Her students include nursing students with English as a second language at the Portland, Oregon campus of Walla Walla University and grade school children with reading development needs. She guests lectures at Clark College School of Psychology, Vancouver, Washington. Learn more about Susan L. Schoenbeck at Susan Schoenbeck, MSN, RN

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