Where I write

Where I write

April 14, 2014

The Final Chapter

I recently brought an article from USA Today to my writer's group about the trend for individuals to write his or her own obituary. There are even web sites that instruct you how to make your obituary shine, with helpful tips as including fun, even quirky, details such as your favorite coffee cup or first kiss or advice to loved ones you are leaving behind.

To my surprise I was met with less than enthusiastic interest from my writing pals. I had wrongly assumed that writers, more than any other group of people, would be eager in making sure their life stories were accurate and interesting and, yes, a good read. But then I guess I forgot that even thinking about one's own death is as much fun as getting your teeth pulled, or doing your tax return, or cleaning toilets. Maybe my writer friends were thinking there were many more subjects they planned to write about before composing a final chapter about their life for the daily newspaper. I took my unwelcome writing obit article home and stashed it away.

Then, the very next week, I came across this obit in the Arizona Republic where a man named Michael (see half way down where it says Michael wrote himself) included an essay beneath the formal obituary written by his family, or so I assumed. Michael shared many loving thoughts as well as reflections about his own happy life. Lucky for Michael his family had nice things to say about him, too.

Not as blessed was Mary Ann Smith. I found this obit a few years ago. In it the writer says "Mary's life was full of bad choices, many of which she would come to regret terribly." It goes on to say other nasty stuff about Mary.

Who doesn't make bad choices? All I have to do is remember some of the men I've dated, or that shiny disco outfit I wore in 1977 with the neon yellow stripes, and cringe. Okay I know those choices only hurt me, but still, shouldn't there be some mercy toward the deceased? Writing your own obituary would be insurance against revengeful family members.

When I worked at a newspaper in a small town, I was the obituary writer. I'm sure some of the obituaries I wrote were clipped out and put into bibles just like the photo above. With newspapers dying around the country, I have a feeling that will be a lost practice. There's the Internet to take it's place. For many people, the obit it the only time his or her life will receive public acknowledgement. Why not make your life shine for the world? And what better way than to do it yourself.

This doesn't mean I've actually written my own obituary. I don't have a favorite coffee cup, and I can't remember my first kiss. I'm just like my writer friends. I would rather write about other subjects. In fact, I like this article even better.

Hey, if I live to be 100 I might not even remember my actual life. Instead, I will make up a story. For my obituary I will write I was a gypsy who lived in Romania and sailed around the world, dancing and having many lovers, before I settled on an island where I lived in a thatched hut, wrote steamy novels, drank rum drinks with pink umbrellas, and danced in the moonlight until I died.

Now that would be an obituary.


Stella said...

I think about my death all the time. I would like to write my own obituary, or at least have something to contribute to it. My mother wrote hers. We had to amend it a little, but not much. I've never heard of a nasty obituary and I was really surprised to see that one was written about poor Mary. Yikes. I think I'll get started now!

Rita A. said...

Even as one of those less than excited writers I find your view of obits interesting. And certainly worth considering. With a per word cost for obits in many papers I'm not sure leaving that duty for your survivors is always good. Perhaps those memories are better in a journal or even a blog where others can read your thoughts. Like this one.

gloria mellinger said...

I think I remember your first kiss. Wasn't it that guy who lived on or near Marilee and Richard's street (7th grade)? Or maybe it was Paul Short...you had a crush on him :) That said, this was a very interesting read. Makes one think. I'm surprised anyone who publish a negative obit, like the one about Mary. Thanks again for another insightful piece Susy. Love you and let's live full lives to 100, dancing and traveling and bringing ourselves and others joy! XO!

SunsetCindi said...

I remember that negative obit and it's probably more real than most of them we see. I have told my family that I don't want a skimpy obit and I need to write my own and why not, who knows us better than ourselves!

(I must have been in the bathroom when this discussion took place as I wasn't in on it, I would have liked to be!)