Writing your own obituary? First of all, I should note that I’m not in imminent danger of dying. As far as I know. I suppose I could be mistaken. In any case, I’m betting against living another six decades.
The idea of writing my obit appeals to me. It’s mostly because I recognize that the task can be onerous. Writing it yourself alleviates the stress of your family and friends having to take on the task. Of course, you also have to face up to your accomplishments. You might say, as Peggy Lee did, “Is that all there is?” Conversely, you might be forced to consolidate the bullet points. That racquetball trophy I won in 1989 won’t make MY list.
I love a good obituary. It’s like any compelling story. I remember leafing through The Last Word: The New York Times Book of Obituaries and Farewells: A Celebration of Unusual Lives by Marvin Siegel. Where this happened, I don’t remember, but it was several years ago. Thrift Books reviews speak to me.
“Rather than an ode to death, this book cherishes lives once lived by all kinds of people. Whether brilliant or simple, rich or poor, actions great or discreet, each of the people written about contributed to society in a meaningful (and often surprising) way.”
“You wouldn’t think a book of obituaries would be entertaining, but it is when the obits are well-written and celebrate the lives and characters of the 100+ people found in this collection. The subjects are most often unknown to the majority of us, but the various authors (including well-known NYT obituary author Robert McG. Thomas, Jr.) humanize each subject and inspire you to contemplate your own life.” Yeah, that.
The recent prompts
I started thinking about this – again – because of a May 14 New Yorker article, Telling the Stories of the Dead Is Essential Work. This was a COVID-19 -related tale.
Then there was an October 15 commentary in the Albany Times Union. “On the obituary pages, reflections of lives fully lived” was written by Karl Felsen, a local retired public relations executive. His daughter, in the time of COVID, had asked Karl and his wife to write their own obits. “If you have a favorite picture, include it.”
Felsen quotes poet Jim Harrison. “Death steals everything except our stories.” He started perusing the longest obituaries in the TU. Charles P. Rougle lived a fascinating life “that ran from Montana to Moscow, from Sweden to Slovenia. A translator and expert in my many languages, a woodworker sand cello player on the side.” Someone Felsen wished he had met.
Of the collection of obituaries that he read, “They were here. They lived. They mattered.” So Felsen’s going to write his own obit. “It’ll be long, celebratory, and mostly true.” He’s “come to the conclusion that crafting your own final story is one way to stay busy living.”
I’m inclined to do this. Maybe not next week, or next month, but probably in the next year. Have any of you done this? Any pointers? This could be an interesting posthumous “ego trip.”