Over the years I have banged on in training sessions about how you can choose your Attitude. In any situation you can choose your response. If you want to be angry about something, that is a choice you can make. Equally, you can choose not to be angry: certainly no one can force you to. When people realise they have options, and that if they consciously choose to they can select attitudes which are more helpful for them, this can sometimes be a breakthrough and lead to much more satisfying results for them personally.
Last week I was reminded of my own message in a very powerful way during a family occasion which I shall never forget. It was my mother’s funeral service. An event which I approached with a powerful combination of emotions. All sorts of anxieties both for myself and other family members, not least my father. Fear of the unknown. I had to give the Tribute speech: how was I going to hold up? Nerves of course, which I always tell people are a result of worrying about messing up, which of course is ultimately a form of vanity. Already I was anticipating the feeling of desolation, emptiness, loss, numbness, which surely would engulf me as we said our last goodbyes.
Then something happened. I re-read the back of the service sheet my brother and sister had masterfully put together. Underneath a photo of Mum and Dad at my wedding, a poem called “She is gone” by David Harkins. It is apparently well known, but as someone who rarely attends funerals, I didn’t know it. Sitting there in Winchester Cathedral, feet away from the coffin, listening to the most fabulous uplifting English choral music conducted by my brother Jonathan, the poem helped me to choose my Attitude when I most needed it to. Ready to break down and give in to the emotion of the moment, I read these words. They are about chosing your Attitude. These words helped me out then, and still are.
“You can shed tears that she is gone or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back or you can open your eyes and see all she has left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her and only that she’s gone or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”
Footnote: Winchester Cathedral is over 12 centuries old. William the Conqueror’s son Rufus is buried there. My brother Jonathan sang in the Cathedral Choir for over 10 years, and to this day it is one of the finest choirs in the country. We were very lucky to have shared the beauty of this place for a short time last week. Do visit it if you can.