APRIL 14, 2014 VOLUME 21 NUMBER 14
I have a new aspiration. I want my obituary to appear (at the appropriate time, of course — not before) in someone’s blog, newsletter, book or other publication as “one of the best obituaries ever” — maybe even to “go viral.” I’m just not sure I can count on my family to understand the importance of this goal. Maybe I need to write my own obituary now.
Turns out that idea is not novel. The recent death of Walter George Bruhl, Jr., in Florida highlighted the trend. Read Mr. Bruhl’s obituary, and the story about its preparation, and you will have to acknowledge that you wish you’d met him.
Of course excellent obituaries can be written by family members. Consider the moving and excellent obituary of Harry Weathersby Stamps, who died in March, 2013, in Mississippi. And note that it appears online on a site called “ObitOfTheDay.com” — the internet is truly a wonderful invention (one wonders whether Al Gore might be working on his own obituary). But back to Mr. Stamps: his wonderful obituary was written by his daughter, Amanda Lewis, a Texas attorney with a wonderful sense of humor and fond recollections about her father’s strengths and eccentricities. There are definitely benefits for family members who write memorable obituaries, but still there is something to be said for preparing your own.
So how to get started with writing one’s own obituary? It turns out that there are plenty of prompts, suggestions and ideas available. One online resource for the self-written obituary project suggests the question: “what do I want people to remember about me?” as a straightforward prompt. The result need not be humorous or whimsical — it might be heartfelt and moving (like actor James Rebhorn’s self-written obituary). It might be wry and revealing (like engineer Val Patterson’s contribution to the genre). Maybe you prefer mostly factual, with the occasional sly aside (like former Marine and ad man John E. Holden — whose short obituary generated enough interest to occasion a longer, much more detailed reminiscence from his local newspaper).
Something similar happened with Jane Catherine Lotter’s self-written obituary. After her death in Seattle in 2013, her obituary “went viral” and resulted in a New York Times article about her life, her death and her writing.
Here’s an interesting idea: try starting with a very simple statement, limited to just six words. That’s the premise behind “Not Quite What I Was Planning,” a 2008 collection of “six-word memoirs” from various contributors. There are even follow-ups: “It All Changed in an Instant” and other volumes in the series.
Most people, though, will want to write a longer version. Advice from one source: just get started. According to Obituary Guide (a resource for writing your own or a loved one’s obituary), getting your own on paper can be a help for family members and a chance to say what you want said about yourself. It also can be part of your end-of-life planning, including your living will, health care power of attorney, durable financial power of attorney, will and other documents.