Norton: When someone passes, ask not how they died, but how they lived (column) |

Norton: When someone passes, ask not how they died, but how they lived (column)

Michael Norton
Valley Voices

We all have known someone who has passed away. And many times, we find ourselves answering a very common question when we speak with another person who just found out about someone’s passing: “How did he or she die?”

That’s usually the first question, right? It’s natural curiosity and basic human instinct to want to know. I would like us to challenge ourselves to ask a different question the next time we find ourselves in the same position. If we are ever asked how another person passed away, then our new response should be, “First can I share with you how they lived?”

As people pass away, the reasons or causes aren’t nearly as important as how the person spent their time here on earth. Who were they? What did they do? What were they passionate about? How did they bring joy to others? How did they serve this world? What was the most amazing memory you have of that person? You see, how they passed away isn’t the story, the story is how they lived.

In a tribute to Maldwyn Zang, it might sound something like this:

“Let me share with you a story of one of our locals. His name was Maldy. He has been a part of this community for decades. You may have known him too, and maybe even know how he passed away. But instead of talking about how he passed, is it OK if I share with you how he lived?

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“Every time you ran into him or talked with him you may have noticed his huge and goofy smile, or you may have engaged in a conversation where you heard, “wrong answer,” as oftentimes he already had all the answers. Being from New York originally, he loved his Mets and his Giants and loved being a fan of both. Maldy was a climber; he climbed everything in sight. He climbed more than 200 of the 13,000-foot mountains and all of the 14’ers here in Colorado. He even hiked mountains in Nepal.

“Each visit included joking and banter. Any time spent with him felt like he truly cared for you. He had many friends in our community, but he also had a very tight circle of friends who he trusted and he would do anything to help them. Maldy was the kind of guy who would wait for others on a hike, never leaving anyone on the mountain. There is a story about a hike at Holy Cross where he stayed back with a friend who was struggling to make sure he was okay and to get him safely down. That’s how he lived.

“There must be hundreds of people with similar stories, I mean there were 400 or 500 people who attended his memorial service at the top of Vail Mountain. How he lived was with humor, a solid work ethic and an attitude of friendship. He was a great guy by all accounts. He had a family and he had his family at Bart & Yeti’s. There are many people who will miss him for sure, because he lived in such an awesome way. His reputation is what he accomplished in his life and all the things he was known for doing; his character is who he was. Years from now we may not even remember how he died, but we will remember how he lived.”

Doesn’t that sound better than just being able to tell someone how someone else passed away?

Someday, hopefully a long time from now, someone will ask someone else how we all passed away. And wouldn’t it be great if they would stop and say, “Can I first share with you how they lived?”

And when they share how we lived, what will that sound like? Will they say we lived with purpose, passion and joy? Will they say we were awesome, loving spouses and parents? Will they say we lived as a loving servant to God? Will they say how we made them laugh, helped them fulfill their dreams, listened to them when they needed us most? Will they say we were a difference maker in their life? Will they say we filled them with faith, hope and love? Or will they say something else about us?

If we think about this right now, and if we really don’t like what we believe other people might say about how we lived, then there is still time to change that. I mean, if you are reading this column right now, then there is still time to change for sure.

In times of death the wrong question to ask or answer is, “How did they pass away?” The right question to ask and answer is, “Can you tell me how they lived?” Maldy lived life to the fullest.

So how about you? Are you creating memories for others who will one day happily share how you lived? I bet you are and I would love to hear all about it at And when we can remember, and then share how our friends and loved ones lived, it really will be a better-than-good week.

Michael Norton is a strategic consultant, business and personal coach and motivational speaker. He writes a weekly motivational column for the Vail Daily.

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