10/09/2013 05:36 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Have You Written Your Ethical Will?

I attended a funeral recently: the sudden death of the father of a dear friend of one of my children. He was a big man with a big heart and a bigger soul. Perhaps his soul was too big for the outer shell. A heart attack. At home. In his favourite chair. Coping with life changes is difficult at the best of times. Sudden death is that much more chaotic.

A hard lot has been created for human beings, a heavy yoke lies on the children of Adam from the day they come out of their mother's womb, till the day they return to the mother of them all.

What fills them with foreboding and their hearts with fear

Is dread of the day of death. Ecclesiasticus 40:1

God said to Abram (Abraham), "Leave your country, your kindred and your father's house for a country which I shall show you" (Genesis 12:1-2). Abram did as he was told and Abram took his wife Sarai (Sarah), his nephew, Lot, and all the possessions they had amassed (Genesis 12:5-6).

The Bible gives us only the bare bones of the story, a few lines and history changes.

Abram was 75 years old when he packed up and left his home for an unknown destination. He took all his possessions. But what could they have been that he was able to take all of them? When we think of the possessions that we can acquire today in 75 years, it's almost unimaginable the amount of cartons and the size of the truck we would need to move everything. And Abram made this move to an unknown place based solely on the word of and his faith in this ineffable God.

There comes a time for all of us when God calls to us to "Go forth" and we must leave the home we have known all our lives and, like Abraham, go into the unknown. Unlike Abraham, we cannot take our possessions with us. And, ultimately, what we leave behind is far more important than anything we could take with us.

We are all told the importance of getting our things in order before we die. We write a will distributing our possessions to our loved ones, trying to think about who would most appreciate this object over that. Now, many of us plan our own funerals and pre-pay them.

But how many of us think about the values, morals and ethics that we pass on to our children and grandchildren, extended family and our friends? How much time have you expended thinking about and writing an ethical will? And how much of what you write will you have taught by your behaviour in this world? Or will it just be empty words?

Have you acted on your moral beliefs with courage of your convictions or have you turned away or joined the ranks of the silent majority? Have your family and friends watched as you reached out to the sick and the weak, your elderly neighbour, your new neighbour, to the newly widowed? Have they watched you open a door, give up your seat, write letters to the editor? Or do they listen to you complain about your world while doing nothing?

Have they been the recipient of lessons in welcoming the stranger or have they listened to you rant about those people? Have they learned from you that along with personal rights come responsibilities to others, that a sense of entitlement leaves you locked in a prison of the self?

Do you give to charity, either with your time or through your cheque book?

Have they learned at you knee that as citizens they are obligated to be engaged in their world or have you taught them what Thomas Aquinas called an ignorantia affectata, a cultivated ignorance, a willful lack of knowledge in order to protect one's own self-interest? No moral culpability.

What we leave behind will be our legacy; how we want to be remembered at the holiday table when family gets together to reminisce. How do you want to be remembered? I've yet to speak to anyone nearing death regretting not spending more time at work. Regret is always for the hours away from family and friends.

It is your name and your deeds that are the greatest possession you leave your family as you take your last breath in this world and the first breath in the world to come. My child's friend's father left an extraordinary legacy to his wife, children, grandchildren, extended family and friends. More than 600 people came to his funeral.

"As a drop of water in the sea, as a grain of sand on the shore are man's few days in eternity. The good things in life last for limited days, but a good name endures forever." -- Ben Sira

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!"

"Gone where?"

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at that moment when someone at my side said: "There, she is gone!" there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: "Here she comes!" Anonymous

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