Writing Your Own Obituary

Man Writing ObituaryPondering your own death can be considered pessimistic, depressing, or morbid. What’s the point anyway? You’ll be gone, so it’s not your problem, right?

That might be the wrong attitude. Contemplating what will happen after you die—not in heaven or through reincarnation, but in the days on Earth just after your last breath—can be a responsible decision. Many funeral homes provide the option of prearranging your funeral, both logistically and financially. Among the customs following death is writing an obituary. You can probably name several people who know you well enough to take care of that for you, but why not do it yourself?

Preservation of Personality
Writing your own obituary can preserve a piece of your individuality. Steve Wright of Wright Funeral Home, Moorhead, says, “I think the best person to write the basis of an obituary is the person who lived the life.” He explains that even those dearest to us cannot come close to painting an exact reflection of our unique existence. Would the person who knows you best capture your wit? Are you sure the accomplishment you valued most will be remembered?

Wright references two mindsets: those who want an obituary that covers their life from A to Z and those who stick to the bare facts. Writing for yourself ensures that your obituary will not leave out things that were important or flaunt things that were not.

Your obituary will be read by people who knew you well, seeking a happy memory, and by people who barely knew you at all but want one last chance to learn who you were. It may be your last biographical clip. Why not make it an autobiography?

Favor for Survivors
If you aren’t drawn by the personal motive to write about yourself, consider those you will leave behind. The period between a death and a funeral is brief, busy, and emotional. Amidst their grief, your relatives are responsible for planning a memorial ceremony, a burial, and any number of other funeral traditions. Even their best effort to honor your life in your obituary may be plagued by sorrow and further limited by a quick deadline for publication to announce the interment.

Prearranging your funeral can be a final act of kindness toward your loved ones. Michele Walloch, Boulger Funeral Home, Fargo, notes that writing your own obituary is not a required part of prearranging, but it is one simple step to relieve your survivors. Likewise, if you choose not to prearrange your funeral, storing a copy of your self-written obituary with someone you trust will still reduce one obligation for whoever is in charge of arranging your funeral. Even providing a brief outline of your obituary can ease the burden of the person responsible for recalling your full timeline. With the basis of your life drafted, your loved ones can focus on their best memories of you to highlight the good times.

Improved Motivation for Life
If you think you are too young to be contemplating your death, think instead about your life. If something unexpected happened, would you be satisfied with the summation of your existence? Writing your own obituary can be a thorough evaluation of the life you are presently living and a way to motivate change. If you are unsatisfied with your personal summary, make time now to improve it. The Warner Bros. film, “The Bucket List” (2007), inspired audiences to consider their own lists of life desires. Have you marked anything off your list lately? Take the opportunity to alter your lifestyle and reprioritize your goals. Be proactive to ensure your ultimate obituary, whether written by you or someone else, reflects a life that makes you proud.

Telling Your Story
You’ve decided for whatever reason that you should draft a copy of your own obituary. Now what should you say? Wright advises that you start at the beginning. Where were you born?  Who were your parents? Where did you go to school? What happened after that? The facts of your life form the outline for your obituary. (See Basic Obituary Outline below.) Wright explains that after you have the framework of your personal story, “you can embellish with the things you care about.”

Basic Obituary Outline

Full name (nickname, if applicable)
Age at death
Residence at death
Month/Day/Year of death
Place and/or cause of death

Date and place of birth
Names of parents, siblings, schools attended
Dates of marriage(s), place, name(s) of spouse(s)
Degrees, achievements, and other items of note
Places of residence
Hobbies, activities, and sports
Religious, charitable, political, or other affiliations

Survived by (include place of residence):

Children (in birth order, include spouses)
Grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.
Parents, grandparents, siblings (in birth order)
Others, such as nephews, nieces, cousins, in-laws, friends, pets

Predeceased by (list name and/or relationship)

Date, time, location
Visitation information: date, time, location
Place of interment: date, time, location
Name of funeral home handling arrangements

Memorial donation suggestions

Boulger Funeral Home has a comprehensive, paragraph-by-paragraph guide to writing an obituary on their website, www.BoulgerFuneralHome.com/documents.

The Remembering Site (www.therememberingsite.org) is a thought-provoking website designed to generate words and ideas that will help you formulate your life story and thus, your obituary. Answers to the questions listed there will provide an extensive inventory of your past. You may find that a few answers highlight an already forgotten piece of yourself that you would like people to remember and enjoy.

Wright also advises looking at others’ published obituaries as a guide for writing your own. Consider the clever ways your life can be described. This is a line from a recent obituary for a surveyor from Utah, “His fine penmanship and eye for the line were put to good use on the draftsman’s table to create the charts and blueprints for the future he was building for the rest of us.” Here is a sample from a financially shrewd woman from Texas, “Linda was also very good at managing money. She could take a nickel and turn it into $1.00.” Humor comes through in this 2008 obituary from Tennessee, “In Ida’s spare time she became an assistant coach to the University of Memphis Tigers, the Memphis Grizzlies, the LA Lakers, and the Miami Heat, if not in reality in her mind. As a professional armchair consultant to the NBA, Ida was nicknamed Hoop Mama Two.” These examples paint a vivid picture of the people they represent.

Your obituary may be the final thing people read about you. Share the best of life with those who knew you only a little, and let those who knew you well smile once more in recollection. Use this final journal entry to relieve a burden from your loved ones, to secure the memory of what you valued most, and to enhance the life you are living now.

Courtney Taylor is a Fargo resident who hopes her own obituary will reflect her passion for traveling, volunteering, and writing.

Filed Under: Spirituality

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