I once read that big publications ask journalists to keep obituary drafts on celebrities so that they can quickly publish in the event that one of them meets their ultimate demise.
Although this seems morbid, it’s also practical. I was recently reading a 3,500 plus word obituary published within hours of the death of a public figure in Ireland, and I was struck by how deep and thorough it was. In comparison, the obituaries of beloved local members of my community—oft written by loved ones—were rather shallow and fleeting.
This bothered me.
We’re all a bit voyeuristic. I can’t be the only one who reads obituaries of people I don’t know and have never met. The obituaries that I find most touching are the ones that reveal the humanity and uniqueness of a person.
How did they live in ways like no one before them? What can I learn from their lives? What stories did they embody in flesh and bone that will live on in the memories and hearts of those still here?
I started considering my own life and what I want to be remembered by. There are the basic facts: name, date of birth, age, eventual death details. But aren’t we all more than just dates and numbers?
My brother and I have had a long-standing pact that we will write each other’s obituaries. He has the same infatuation with language that I have, and a keen ability to reveal truths.
But instead of leaving it all up to my brother (and to chance), I decided to draft my own obituary.
Let me be clear: I’m not doing this because I think we should live in a state of fear that death is around every corner; rather, we should live in the knowledge that life is full and we carry it with us always.
And yet, thinking about death freaks people out. It’s unpleasant at best and nihilistic at worst. I tend to be incredibly superstitious—which goes against all of my agnostic, science-based beliefs—but what are we if not a jumble of contradictions? I don’t necessarily think I’m tempting fate. I’m a healthy, late-twenties, married new mother. Statistically, I should have a long and happy life ahead of me.
But life and death happen. I think in the West we have an unhealthy fear of death which leads to a lot of the neuroses that infringe upon living. I’m guilty of it too. Who wants to think about death? Not many of us. Regardless, whether we like it or not, death happens. Approaching death mindfully can alleviate some of our existential fears.
Crafting my own obituary started out as a writing exercise, but I think I’ve stumbled onto a beautiful life lesson.
Writing my own obituary has taught me to live.
By distilling my experiences down into the essentials, I’ve discovered the places in my life that are full and the spaces yet to be filled. I am family and relationship rich. I am travel rich. I am embodied life rich. I am chosen-career rich.
It has helped me decide where to go. What part of my life have I not yet lived that I want to show up in my obituary?
It’s helped me realize what I’m proud of and what I shy away from. What experiences from my life do I want to share with others? What do I want to keep secret? What do I want others to know that they don’t already?
I’m using my obituary as a compass guided by the loves in my life, my passions, my accomplishments, and my quirks. I’ll regularly ask myself not only, “How do I want to be remembered?” but more importantly, “How do I want to live?”
What mark do I want to leave on the world? What contribution have I yet to make? Where do I want to go, and what have I been too scared to do?
I’m incredibly happy, and I love my life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to grow, to adventure, to live on the edge of something new and raw. Writing my own obituary has taught me the essential components of life. Where I come from. Where I’ve been. My relationships to others. My education. My travels. My service. What I hope to give to the world.
My obituary has taught me not just to look back, but to look forward. To lose no time creating my life here in the present, and to intentionally chart my way through the unknown waters to come.
In my current obituary draft, I am most proud of my relationships. But that’s not all that I am. We crave being seen and understood. I’m no different.
When the time comes that my obituary is no longer a draft, I hope it reveals a taste of the essential truths I’ve spent a lifetime uncovering. I also hope that my brother shares that I lived and laughed with a full heart.
I’ve learned more about how to live while writing my own obituary than I ever expected.
I’ll leave you with the first phrase that jumped to mind when I started crafting my obituary:
She loved words. She loved to read them and write them. She didn’t love to spell them.
Here’s to living a life full of obituary-worthy stories.
Author: Kenni Linden
Image: Flickr/Jim Trottier
Editor: Callie Rushton