How to Write Your Own Obituary

Last week I was with my BBFs as they celebrated and honored the life of their father.

The night before I left, my BBF’s mom announced, very nonchalantly, that her husband had written his own obituary. Oh, and he’d already penned hers as well.

When I asked why he did that, she replied with a matter of a fact smile, “Nobody wrote better than him.” To prove her point, she pulled out legal pad pages carefully written out in elegant longhand.

While this was a very literal take on what she was saying, I understood what she meant figuratively. After all, the man headed the department of communication at Rider University; putting things in his own voice through to the lasting summarizing statement made a lot of sense.

But beside all of that, what I found absolutely fascinating — and inspirational — was idea of legacy. The concept of figuring out what can be said about you once all is finally done. While you are still living.

This got me thinking, because my BBF’s family had a motto: just do it. (Sorry Nike, you weren’t the first!)

Or maybe, more accurately, don’t postpone joy. (This is one of my favorite expressions, a legacy of another BBF who knew all about YOLO.)

The act of writing an obituary when it’s your own involves reflecting on every significant aspect of your life. Not to go all Oprah on your ass, but I don’t think that this is an exercise reserved for when you take your last breath. 

I believe this makes a whole lot of sense to do all along the way.  So here are a few guidelines for how to live your life as if you were writing your own obituary:

1) Always celebrate your accomplishments… even ones from long ago: This is directly tied into self-esteem. An obit includes information about the educational degrees you’ve earned, awards you’ve won, and acknowledgements you’ve received. Sometimes when I’m feeling extreme mommy-brain and get down on myself for not being the sharpest tool in the shed, I remind myself that I have a couple of advanced degrees and I got this. Whatever this might be.

2) Be present with everyone, and especially those worth mentioning by name: Every obituary lists family and close friends who are left behind. This is one that I am currently focusing on, as my work has gotten exceptionally busy, my husband’s job is all-engrossing, my kids are constantly on the go, my parents have an active social life, my brother and his family live far away — ditto on the in-laws — and my friends are in the thick of it all, too. I’m just saying that time is precious, and we have to make the space to be present and connect with the ones we love.

3) Unpack your adjectives: If you describe your life in dynamic, kind, lovely words, then guess what? It will feel all that much more dynamic, kind, and lovely. Case in point: my BBF’s dad’s obit described his death as “peaceful,” his battle with cancer as “courageous,” his daughters as “loving,” his wife as “beloved,” his son-in-law as “wonderful,” his granddaughters as “beautiful” (and also loving). Those words allowed him to proceed as ifas if he knew he would feel peaceful in the end, as if he would certainly face the darkest day with great courage. And most importantly as if he was well loved by gracious people…. which of course, all the way through to the end and beyond, he was.

4) Be charitable, now: It’s traditional for people to want to honor you after you go with donations to a philanthropy that speaks to you — and how much more meaningful it is to have a charity of your choice now, that you are involved with today, so that your support can live on?

5) Make time for doing what you love: In my BBF’s dad’s obituary, it mentioned his passion for opera, how he and his wife were “inveterate travelers, fortunate enough to see the world together,” and also that he was an ardent, life-long New York Yankees fan. Does everyone know what you’re passionate about? Do you put off doing the things you enjoy most because there’s “not enough time?” Do you think you can’t afford to do what you love? I’d argue that you can’t afford not to do what you love.

6) Think about how you live your “dash”: At my BBF’s dad’s funeral, a poem called, “The Dash” was read, and it was all about not the numbers “born,” and “died,” but about what the dash in between the years truly means:

… So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash… would you be proud of the things they say

about how you spent YOUR dash?