Writing My Eulogy
She’s buried six feet below the grandest of all the grave markers in the cemetery east of town. Her husband had selected an angel on a pedestal emblazoned with his bride’s photograph — an extravagant option nearly 100 years ago.
For a long time, I knew her only from the photo and a few words etched into the pedestal. Kneeling in the grass, I traced the time-worn letters with my fingers:
Anna Pexa nee Ahders
Born October 5, 1884
Died January 19, 1919
She was 34 years old — probably a mother, I figured.
I haven’t visited her grave for some time now. On this cold January day, her angel is encased in a two-foot snow drift. But when I visit the cemetery on warm summer days, I always stop here at her graveside.
I imagine a life invested by a young mother on the Iowa prairie some 90 years later. And I consider: How am I investing my own?
Even since I was a child, I’ve done this. I have combed cemeteries to look at gravestones and imagine lives lived in The Dash* — the moments between the Launch and the Landing.
At the side of a veteran’s grave, decorated with tiny flags pushed into May dirt on Memorial Day, I’d imagine holidays spent on war-torn ground.
At a child’s grave, flat to the ground, I would see wobbly first steps, hear first words and feel kissed boo-boos.
At the grave of an 82-year-old grandmother, I would feel the fresh sting of tears as I remembered my own.
In my home cemetery, I would visit the graves of Margaret and Helen and Doris, and I would remember their cookies and funny hairdos and shaky-soprano voices.
Unseen snippets of lives would dance in my mind:
Heads bowed around a Thanksgiving table.
Snorting laughter around an evening fire.
Painful tears around a child-sized casket.
As a child, I was drawn to the gravestones of children. I held white paper to their gravestones, and used crayons to make rubbings of their birth dates and words like: “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.”
Today, I’m drawn to the gravestones of young mothers. I suppose it’s that part of me that remembers this truth: We’re all going to die. And none of us has any guarantees how long we’ll sail between the Launch and the Landing.
In the United States, a typical woman lives about 80 years, or 29,200 days.
If my math is right, and if I’m typical, I guess I have about 15,330 days left.
But If I were Anna Ahders Pexa, I’d have landed already.
It wasn’t enough to know the woman’s name and two dates. I had to know more about this woman who raised her sails and rode the seas between the Launch and the Landing.
So I went to the courthouse a few months back to find out more about Anna Ahders Pexa. I combed birth records, death records, marriage records and newspaper clippings that were saved to microfilm in my county-seat town.
And this is a bit of what I found: Anna Ahders was born in Inwood, Iowa. She’d attended country schools and lived on the family farm. She married Mike before she turned 20, and three years later, left for South Dakota where the couple farmed. Her husband once said she “bravely faced the privations of pioneer life.”
They had five children in all, and Anna’s mother had recently moved in. But the young mother had fallen ill, so she took a train alone to Rochester, Minnesota, for an X-ray. She died there of yellow jaundice four days later. Doctors said she also had an “internal cancer.”
“Mr. Pexa received a message to come at once that his wife was dangerously ill,” the news reporter wrote in the front-page story of her death. “He went to town to take the train and there found a message awaiting him that his wife was dead.”
“But in life we are in the midst of death,” the reporter wrote. “And Mr. Pexa grieves the more because she was called by death just when after years of pioneering and hardship they were getting comfortably fixed and in shape to take life with more ease.”
Our time at sea sometimes ends cruelly short, and when I look at the photo of Anna and re-read old news stories, my own mortality gnaws at my insides.
How am I living my dash?*
What does my heart beat for?
And do I leave a legacy that points to Christ while I navigate my own stormy seas?
To some, the thought is perhaps morbid — that I would scour cemeteries and 90-year-old archives for answers to life’s big questions.
But I find something I need here in the cemetery: I find a needed reminder that I’m pressing ever-closer to the Landing.
I used to be scared of the Landing, you know. I was afraid that the shore was The End. But that was before I came to know that The Landing was really just the beginning. That was before I knew that a calm and Crystal Sea waits on the other side of these waters.
Today, you and I are four days into the new year. You and I are four days closer to the Landing.
And if I’m typical, I have about 15,330 days left until I reach the shore. And if I’m not typical, well … I still have this day.
For I know that each day, I’m writing my own eulogy. I’m not writing it on paper, but I’m etching it on history and hearts. What legacy — I ask myself — am I leaving today — number 13,870 of my life?
I want to be rich in love and slow to anger. I want to spread kindness and extend mercy. I want to make a mark on this life, not for my name’s sake but His. I want to leave a legacy of a Dash well-lived; I want to invest a life in love.
Today, I’m writing my own eulogy. And I want to write it well.
*The phrase “living your dash” comes from a poem originally written by Linda Ellis.
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We all need to become a people of the dash. To live our lives with the choices that we have. So much on that tombstone is determined.
The name is one given through birth or marriage — There's no going back and fixing that
The date of birth was the result of the union of two people — No changing that one either
And date of death was almost certainly the result of some external force
But the one thing on those tombstone we can control is the dash. The dash that represents the years between the birth day and the death day.
The dash represents a life lived.
The dash represents a thousand decisions, a thousand lives impacted, a thousand chances to change their world. The dash represent days live for some causes, some purpose, and some good
Great observations here JLD!
I Blogged about our inbetween years here:
Ah Miss Jennifer…
Your sweet search of the markers of lives long gone is a touching thought to me today as I sit searching the markers within my own heart. Dreams, ambitions, bad habits and false paths…each laid out within, each baring a marker to distinguish it from the others. And as I walk thru this place with my Lord, I find that I am able to grieve and rejoice in places I wasn't able to before…
Morbid? No…rather beautiful, as each life, no matter how it was lived, carried meaning and purpose to SOMEone that it touched.
Much love to you,
"I still have this day…"
I needed this today. Thanks for living your day and encouraging me to keep living mine.
wow…this was awesome, Jennifer.
I love how the angel is embracing the nest. I am a nest lover, if you want to call it that. I have them placed randomly around my house. To me, a nest represents a place made/designed for new life. How appropriate to find one in that angel's hands.
I could not have said it better myself. I myself am doing my best to leave a legacy, to show my love for God and others.
I want to pass it on to my children to be loving, kind compassionate and to most importantly live for God. We are never promised tomorrow and we need to make the best of every precious day we have.
I have began a 15 a month challenge on my blog as a way to give even more this new year. If you have time please stop by to read about it.
This is beautiful.
I love that you scour the graveyards. These are life stories, not just death stories. I too have always had an odd attraction to children's graves.
You got me thinking and praying with this post. Another beautiful piece.
A great reminder and great post. 🙂
Day 16863 over here. That post just stoked more fires than I know how to intelligently comment on, so I'll spare you that and just continue pondering in my shadows here.
But wanted to add this: there is another story in the nest. You know that, yes? And you'll write it?
Oh, I enjoyed reading this one! I'm a genealogy buff and get so sidetracked with all the stories when I'm researching.
And that we are daily writing our own eulogy is something we should carry in our hearts all the time.
Powerful post that leaves me pondering the dash of my own life.
I pray that God will be able to say that He used me mightily for His kindgom and that I did what I could for Jesus.
Love you my friend,
I loved this post, which I found via LL Barkat, but I have to say it was your header that touched me the most and will probably stay with me all day long.
I have tears in my eyes as I ask myself? "What am doing with the dash of life?" It's definitely a pun worth pondering…thank you for provoking each of us to be reminded of what the dash is all about…dashing towards the Finishing Prize…our Jesus! Wow! This is beautifully written and I love how you connected me with this beautiful young mom who 'dashed' through life much faster than she had ever anticipated. Thank you! Love..Teresa
Your write some very unique posts, all of them good. I look at cemetary markers, too, and have ever since I was a kid. It is neat how you looked up the details of this ladies life. I believe she would be honored and pleased that someone took the effort to do that.
Interesting to think that right now we are living our 'dash.' I want to live it well today. Thanks.
I am so glad to know I am not the only one who scours cemeteries looking at gravestones…two kindred hearts are we 🙂 The next time you are in my area give me a call…we can go together! I am on my 15,832nd day and living my dash to the fullest…thanks for another great writing.
Hey Jennifer! That was an excellent and thought-provoking post. I'm sure I will be dwelling on that for a time to come. I don't know if you got my message from a few days ago or not, but you have an award sitting at my blog waiting for you. I thank you so much for the time and thought which you invest in your posts. I always get a lot from them, hence the award. If you came by before, I was having trouble with the links in the post, but I have gotten them fixed. Please come and receive your award which I so lovingly give to you for your thoughtfulness.
Love & Prayers,
I loved this post, Jennifer. There's something peaceful about cemetaries to me. I also enjoy imagining the lives some must have lived depending on the time period they lived in. Your words are inspiring.
I love this.
Thank you for visiting my blog. Beautiful post!!!
Life. Death. In living we die. In dying we live. The boundaries have become shaky to me as I watch the days float by. This was breathtaking. And so was Anna Pexa Ahders.
I find cemeteries comforting. Maybe it is because there is no outside interference like cell phones, tvs blaring, or radios. Maybe it is because everytime I visit my grandma there, something 'magical' always happens…like the sun shining even though the sky is covered in clouds. Maybe it is because in the silence of death is where I hear God speak the loudest. For at the Cross, He was heard loud and clear. Very moving post…thank you for keeping the dash alive for Anna.
Only 9,832 days here. I'm just a rookie.
I grew up a quarter mile from an old country cemetery, and I loved walking there, browsing tombstones, and just sitting for a while. The stones are fascinating, holding secrets of lives lived over a hundred years ago that only the person below knows.
P.S. I'm referencing you in my next post, due to hit internets everywhere on Wed.
Well you certainly have given me something to think about. What an interesting story about Anna. Thank you for sharing it.
Wow! How powerful to say the least. Truly reflecting on the dash.
Have to add my WOW…this was something I needed…something everyone should read…and really think about…
"And do I leave a legacy that points to Christ while I navigate my own stormy seas?"
These are good words to read as we head into the new year. The gift of our days.
Jennifer, I'm pretty sure you will leave behind a legacy of love when you have completed your 80 yr dash. What a blessing you are here! How blessed is your family. This is a great read to start off the New Year. What eulogy are we writing indeed…
Well done, Jennifer. I posted "The Dash" poem on my blog a year ago and wonder at all that has happened in that time…let alone…a lifetime.
Keep up the God work.
Jen, as a child and teenager, I used to walk through cemetaries as well. Maybe I should take time to do it again…
You have a great blog here. I have a blog myself which I hope will provide inspiration and guidance to people all around the world. Life is hard enough. I'd like us to exchange links to help spread some traffic around, and let other people know about our sites.
Please let me know if this is possible.
Beautiful! As a young Teenager I spent hours wondering around the Cemetary next to my home, reading the stones and "adopting" the oldest that didn't have anyone to visit them anymore. Your writing brought home those memories.
She is my great-great grandmother. I have never seen her beautiful headstone, and really never knew anything about her, other than a name. Thank you for sharing!