Obits: Have You Written Yours?
Last month, I wrote with gusto about the benefits of an accidental retreat. I had a wonderful time when my husband suggested I go up north. Alone. To the woods. Where I could reside in solitude with nothing but mystery books, spotty cell service, and a large, empty forest around me.
A retreat is all fun and games until reality sets in. What was I thinking? What if something had happened?
It’s October, a time for spooky nights and ghost stories. The theme leads me to this month’s blog post’s topic, obituaries. Have you written one? Have you composed your own?
We’re writers, so we should be prepared to write something interesting about ourselves, I believe.
I’ve written a number of obits. I enjoy composing them because they’re a tribute to the person who’s passed as well as a gift to his or her family. I love offering a glimpse into a person’s soul; my goal is to write a life essay that is different, a description that tells a story with grace and imagination. But have I written my own? Have you?
We should because writers are storytellers, after all. That’s what a great obit is, a short story. Plus, time is of the essence. There’s no better strategy for avoiding the dreaded habit of procrastination than understanding tomorrow is not a given. Finally, as writers, we should compose our own obituary because who knows us better than ourselves?
Obit as a Short Story
Few people enjoy writing about themselves. My students struggle with writing their short bios for class. Composing a LinkedIn summary can be positively painful. So, I suggest detachment and a focus on craft rather than oneself. Employ the basics of short story. I enjoy Kurt Vonnegut’s advice: Start near the end, then have every sentence advance the action and reveal more about the main character (that’s you). Give the reader a character to root for (again, you). I love this blog post from Writer’s Digest as it relates to obits. Embrace idiosyncrasies. Be true to your IQ. Make them laugh. And, make them cry.
That advice works for a great obit, I say.
We can’t pick when it’s our time to go, so we should avoid the pretense of thinking we have time to write our obituaries “later.” We don’t have the time. Well, we believe we have the time but we’re only given the moment we’re in, right now. It’s up to God to give us tomorrow. There are some wonderful samples of brilliant obits here. I have a friend who wants, “I told you I was sick,” written on her tombstone. (She’s German and very funny. She wants to leave her audience laughing.) There are more examples here. I’m partial to humorous obits but that doesn’t mean I recommend writing one. Write about who you are using your style, your voice. It’s your experiences, your ideas. Truly, it’s your story.
If writing the entire obituary isn’t possible, composing an outline is doable and quick—and fabulous news: It’s okay to include backstory! Finally!
Who Knows Us Better?
I’m confident about where I’m going, so I do not mean to be flip about composing one’s own story before leaving this life. I’ve had the blessing of living until age 56. It’s up to God if I get tomorrow. As a result of living into my fifties, I’ve been granted wisdom that wasn’t in my consciousness at an earlier time in my life. I know myself better than I ever have, and I’m ready to put that self-knowledge on paper. I’ve written a draft of my obituary, and I’ve included my favorite quotations and hymns. The theme of my Celebration of Life will be that I’m the lucky one, don’t grieve. I’m at Jesus’ feet, worshipping Him, waiting for my family and friends. I’d ask people to love and forgive until their time comes. Work hard, do not stress, and do not worry. Enjoy the short time on this beautiful planet that God has provided for his beloved children.
If you get the chance to write someone’s obituary, I suggest doing it. If you feel compelled to write your own, I encourage you to begin. Perhaps the short story you write about yourself will inspire something else, another story or a novel. Embrace this moment because it’s truly all we have. If writing your obit isn’t possible or you’re not comfortable with it, gather favorite quotes, music, or pieces of your life that reflect who you are, print them, then put them in a folder. (Tell someone where that folder is, too.) Add to it when you find something that moves you or reflects your nature.
And finally, remember that as writers, we investigate the unknown. We explore things “out there” and sometimes it’s uncomfortable. It’s okay. Writing about uncomfortable places, themes, and ideas is what writers do.
I wish you a happy, safe October, and an insightful, meaningful obit, writers. - Tracey Kathryn
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