Reverend Mom has given an account of her disappointment upon visiting a Unitarian Universalist funeral; while, not unexpectedly, there was no mention of personal immortality or resurrection, perhaps more surprisingly, there was no mention even of the idea of the deceased living on in spirit through the memories of others. She wrote,
Can we relate to the universe as incarnational without a belief in Jesus as the son of God? I believe so, and it would have lent more power to this service which honored a powerful woman. We celebrated her life; what was missing was the celebration of the life-giving force within and among all life that is always creating, that never dies.I always liked the concept within process theology of "objective immortality", which proposes that all of our experiences live on after we die, objectively, in God's perfect memory. Of course, we also live on in the imperfect memory of others we have affected in our lives. But those around us will, after all, someday die. As the author Anne Lamott puts it, every 100 years or so, the world has "all new people". Unless we are particularly famous, the world will likely forget most of us. But God always remembers us, and in that sense we enhance God's own experience, just by having lived.
Still, it matters to me to think that I have a positive influence on those around me. Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but I sometimes daydream about what other people would say about me at my hypothetical future funeral. If I were as good a person as I want to be, then my egoistical self I would like to imagine that people would talk about all the wonderful things I did that touched them in some way. But my other self wonders if they would even have positive remembrances of the impact I have had on them--or if all they would have to say about me were just nonspecific, blandly sentimental nothings. Would I get credit for the things I think I deserve credit for, or would I be the only one to remember them? On the other hand, would they remember things I had done that I have long ago forgotten about?
I have always wanted my life to mean something to the world around me. Am I leaving the world in a better place than it would have been had I never been born? I don't know the answer to that question. There are so many ways that we can have a positive impact without curing cancer or saving people from burning buildings. We don't have to be heroes to make the world better. I know that, at some level; but still, I wonder how I make an impact through the everyday actions of my life. And then there are the things I feel guilty about, sometimes actions that I took long ago, sometimes when I was young and naive and didn't know any better.
The idea that for each and every one of us, that which constitutes our egos, our selves--the subjective collectivity of our experiences and remembrences--is snuffed out at some point when we die--seems like a terrible tragedy for me. At some level, I am open to the idea of an afterlife, but I am not focused on it, and I am not confident in it either. At the very least, we can honor the memories of those who have died before us.