I was flipping through emails and blog posts when a headline caught my eye. I clicked back a page and read again the title of the NPR piece by Alan Gelb. “5 Good Reasons to Write Your Own Obituary: The case for taking hold of your life story.”
Now there’s a conversation starter. Even the author leads his piece by asking, “Why, one might ask, would anyone want to write his or her own obituary?” He offers multiple choice answers including: sheer narcissism, morbidity, or a desire to control.
Here at Lakeside we deal more often that we’d like with what Gelb calls the work of confronting life’s third act. Our own foibles and forgetfulness seem quite enough, but then there are also the obituaries in each week’s paper and they alone add a sixth reason to write your own review of your life.
Some obits for folks who die here are written by family members north of the border. Those life stores include career, family and travel histories that were never mentioned by our local friend. The opposite problem is when the deceased life’s tale is related by lakeside friends who’ve known him or her in the last waning years over the bridge table or the bar or the church pew. Local friends may not be able to share complete stories of educational degrees, military honors, loving family or the triumphs of the workplace.
When you think of it, there’s no reason not to write your own obituary and then disseminate it as you see fit. Gelb reminds readers that with social media, email and the other ubiquitous and free outlets, your obituary carefully crafted by you can tell others who you once were, how you have lived and who you now are – all at the appointed time.
He correctly points out that writing your own obituary is sort of like voting for yourself when you run for office. It may be a bit self-serving, but it is fully warranted and it can make all the difference.
These are his five reasons to write your own obituary:
Resolve. Mortality is scary, and historically, we have avoided the prospect altogether. Recent support groups and books which encourage us to discuss end-of-life plans, are beginning to break the taboos and encourage open conversation about our own ending.
Perspective. Memoir writing, journaling, and oral histories, give new meaning to personal histories and our place in the history of the world. Compared to the time required to write a memoir, the short and to-the-point obituary has a good deal of appeal as a highly concentrated life review.
Accuracy. Even forgetting the propensity for “border promotions” among lakesiders, there are lists of well-known people who suffered the indignity of having inaccurate obituaries written about them prematurely. It was a premature obit calling Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, “a merchant of death” that motivated him to found the Nobel Prize to redeem his reputation. Writing your own record eliminates errors in marriages, careers, accomplishments and birthdates – except of course those errors that you intentionally inserted.
Acceptance. Not all of us accomplished all of our dreams. Even without a Miss America crown or a Super Bowl ring, there is great comfort in including your real accomplishments – be they state fair ribbons for apple pies, a spectacular hole in one, a charity educational program, or building 150 birdhouses. Gelb says, “Write your obituary in a way that makes you feel good about who you are and who you have been.”
Connection. Your obituary can become a precious gift for the friends and family you leave behind. It can help them know you better and understand you better. Saving the obit gives those left behind something of you to remember and treasure.
Photo. Find a recent photo with a simple background that you like. Save it with your autobiographical obit. Better yet, email the photo to us at the “Guadalajara Reporter,” and we’ll safeguard it in our “head shot file.” When you receive an award or do a good deed, we’ll have a photo on file. And should it be time for your obituary you’ll know we’re using the photo you like rather than the sorority shot with the sweater and pearls that your sister always liked best.