I often read obituaries.
You may think it morbid but to me, it is a way of finding out what a person was like through the eyes and minds of those left behind. I often wondered how true their words were and how much of it was edited so as to be polite. And nice. People like to be nice. And polite. They like that too. Or seen to be at least!
It seems like death is everywhere at the moment; quite like the quiet winter we are currently going through in London. So plenty of obituaries to read, to find out, to discover but more importantly to reflect. I may not care too much about being polite, or nice for that matter, but I do care about reflection. It’s an important past-time for me, like daydreaming. But that too is reflection.
So in my reflection I was thinking wouldn’t it be lovely if:
a. I could hear all the words, hopefully nice and polite ones about me, like now whilst I’m alive? And receive the flowers too? (I like long stemmed roses, preferably in burnt orange)
b. If there are no nice and polite words to say about me, what can I do to ensure that (a) happens or better yet….
c. What if, right now, I were to put pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard and write my OWN obituary (to be published in 2060) and how would that work? What would I say? What can I say?!
Self-obituaries are catching on I believe. Soon it will be the norm. We can write them like we write wills, legacies and who we would leave our pension funds with in the event of our death etc.; seal them in a little brown envelope (stick some cello tape on it if the sticky bit isn’t as sticky as it should be) and keep it somewhere accessible (not in a safe or in some secret location that no one will ever find because then the whole exercise of writing your obituary would be frankly, pointless and kind of dumb). Then write on the little brown envelope: ONLY TO BE OPENED WHEN I HAVE KICKED THE BUCKET.
Yes I like the idea. There is a glimmer of light in the shape of the self-obituary. I think writing one’s own obituary is a healthy phenomenon as it gives people the chance to say things they’ve always wanted to.
Websites like ObitKit.com tell us: ‘A baby boomer turns 65 every 12 seconds, a good time to start thinking about how we will leave this life, ideally just as we lived it: with personality, panache and style.’ This advice to put the ‘fun’ in ‘funeral’ gives people the chance to tell their own life story. But why wait until 80? Do it now. While your grey matter is still functioning as it should, effectively.
Life coach and author Carole Ann Rice said: ‘Writing your own obituary can be a great reality check and a way to ask yourself that big life question – why am I here and what do I want to be able to say (and not say) about my life at the end? ‘It can provide an incentive for people to not waste valuable time. For example, staying in a job they hate or a relationship that’s not working.’
Talking about death is now seen less of a taboo. I have no problems talking about mine. And many others too from the blogs I’ve seen even by young people who are dying. I think there’s something so profound in being able to talk about death openly, to accept the inevitable. And I think by being open one can actually help others too.
In 2011, newspaper partners of US site Legacy.com published many self-written obituaries including this self-penned obit from one Charlie Johnson in the Houston Chronicle: ‘Hi, my name is Charlie Johnson and I’m an alcoholic. I met the love of my life, Cindy, on August 17, 1984, and we’ve been together, and on the same page, ever since. She’ll probably try to be strong and say she’s fine, but she’s not. She was the feeler to my thinker personality trait and she’ll need a lot of support to get through this.’
See how being open can help others? He was telling the world before it was too late and he couldn’t how his love of his life, Cindy, will need others to continue living. He was passing on a crucial message.
Ann Wroe, an obituaries editor at The Economist magazine, said: ‘A good obituary should make you feel you know the person, share their passions and live for a while inside their heads. This is much more important than tracking their lives in chronological detail.’
So with self-written obituary etiquette from ‘How to write an obituary’ sites like ObituaryGuide.com telling us to be accurate, lively and memorable, what would YOURS say?
I’m fairly certain that it would NOT say the following:
“What everybody loved most about her was how she ate lunch at her desk. Every day.”
“She didn’t have any real friends, but she had 887 Facebook friends, and she dealt with every email in her inbox every night.”
“But she will live on, not in our hearts or memories, because we barely knew her but in her PowerPoint slides, her accurately written minutes which were always meticulously prepared.”
This is because a tribute to yourself is NOT a C.V.
Your C.V. disappears as soon as your heart stops beating.
A tribute to self on the other hand, your obit, describes your inner essence and only those who are really close to you would know a little of. Mostly however, your inner essence will only be known to you — your passions, your joys, the things that made your heart beat fast, your first kiss, your best kiss, how you’ve loved or failed to love or couldn’t love no matter how hard you tried, how you’ve angered and hurt others and how others have angered and hurt you, the things and people you should have let go of years ago but didn’t know how or where to begin, your many fears at 3am (and 4am and 5am, 6am, 9am, 10am, 12pm…), your million little senseless and sensible moral judgements about others and yourself, your outdated but still-hard-to-let-go-off beliefs, your ‘truths’, your thousand hopes and your many lived (unlived) dreams along with the wonderful unexpected surprises and those awfully crushing disappointments that you never thought you’d ever recover from (and you were right). ALL of the many, MANY things that make up this thing, called LIFE.
So if you do decide to write your own obituary, I hope it’s a meaningful experience for you and a helpful one.
I hope too that the exercise will show you the ways you are currently living your life and the ways in which you would like to or hope to and that the finished product is something you can then read with pride and satisfaction with a pinch of regret thrown in for good measure (as life is not perfect or easy nor was it meant to be).
Be kind to yourselves.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s eulogy to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Pacifist leader Gandhi — a crucial figure in the Indian independence movement — was assassinated at a prayer meeting in 1948. The peacekeeper had survived five previous unsuccessful attempts on his life. Despite the eventual violent aftermath following his death, Gandhi’s successor Jawaharlal Nehru — India’s first Prime Minister — addressed the nation by radio with his emotional eulogy, urging citizens to remain faithful to the leader’s ideals.
“The first thing to remember no wish that no one of us dare misbehave because we’re angry. We have to behave like strong and determined people, determined to face all the perils that surround us, determined to carry out the mandate that our great teacher and our great leader had given us, remembering always that if, as I believe, his sprit looks upon us and sees u, nothing would displease his soul so much as to see that we have indulged in any small behaviour or any violence.
So we must not do that. But that does not mean that we should be weak, but rather that we should in strength and in unity face all the troubles and difficulties and conflicts must be ended in the face of this great disaster. A great disaster is a symbol to us to remember all the big things of life and forget the small things, of which we have thought too much.”