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My Obituary

      Several days ago a brief period of acute physical distress set me to thinking about several small projects I had cleverly been postponing for years, such as updating a thirty-five year old will, dashing off some brief notes to accompany certain files that are not self-explanatory, tying up a few loose ends with respect to a lifetime accumulation of odds and ends, and writing my obituary.  

        "Ah, he's a control freak," remarks the casual observer.  "We know the type.  He wants to micromanage things even after he's dead and gone."  

        Not exactly.  Besides, it's common courtesy to heirs to be sure a will is in order and presently reflects what one wants done with his estate.  It's his or her last act, so to speak. 

        "But isn't writing your own obituary carrying things too far?  That's morbid just to think about."

        Of course not.  Why would you want to leave it up to someone else?  Here's your chance to leave a little note for your community explaining a bit about who you were and a few of the highlights of your life, plus names of your survivors and the date and time of a funeral, if one is planned.  You can even suggest where you'd like memorials sent.  The obituary clipping from the newspaper can be photocopied and sent to far-flung friends.  

         I recall reading the obituary of an acquaintance in which the usual recital of birth, parents, and education was laid out.  A line about his service in the Army in Germany "where he learned a good deal about beer and wine" made me chuckle and I realized this man of good humor had penned at least a part of his own obit.  When he referred to his long marriage to his "child bride" I knew for certain he had a hand in it, and a remark about his being "the best advertiser" for a downtown restaurant confirmed my impression absolutely. 

         Why shouldn't obituaries contain a certain charm and even humor?  Why shouldn't an individual, if so disposed,  set down his own story before he or she steps off the stage of life?  There's plenty of guide material available.  A Google search of "obituary writing" shows 1,340,000 links.

         Leaving obit writing up to one's distraught family is dangerous business.  They are apt to describe the dearly departed as someone who deserved sainthood.  Their recital of the highlights of the life just ended may be too detailed.  Those Eagle Scout badges were certainly important at the time but too much detail detracts from the obit and can run up the cost of publication.  

         Then there's the matter of the photograph.   It may seem thoughtful to run the high school photo of one's 89 year old father, and that's certainly preferable to a snapshot of him gasping for breath as he nears his end in a hospital, but it makes more sense to print one that family and friends will recognize.  It's less expensive, of course, to run no picture at all. 

         My freshly written obit does not contain a laundry list of organizations, committees, and jobs that occupied me for several decades.  It brushes lightly across two or three things I accomplished which I recall favorably, pays a compliment to a significant person, and occupies most of the space naming  my immediate descendants and their spouses - nearly two-dozen people of whom I am very proud.  

         Write your own obit?  Why not?  It's commonly done, and if you are a senior citizen it may help you focus on the people and things in your life that were truly important while weeding out the chaff.  It may bring mist to the eyes of family and close friends, and - with luck - a smile from an appreciative stranger. 

         In the case of my own freshly written obituary, it's my hope that you won't see it in print anytime soon.

April 15, 2007

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