Have you ever considered what your own obituary might say or how it might be written? If we are honest with ourselves, we hope it captures our better nature, what was most important to us, our achievements maybe, but certainly our dearest relationships.
If you’re like me, you also hope it points to heaven and surprises with a laugh at the same time. Basically, we hope it records our story.
In my experience, achieving something close to this type of storytelling in the brief opportunity writing an obituary presents is very challenging and therefore rarely accomplished. Deadlines approach quickly and those close family members with enough knowledge are often overwhelmed and grieving. There is a temptation to just list out what a person did which can unfortunately completely miss who they were. Many times, important family stories are simply lost and never shared.
After 20 years of group interviews and last minute obituary writing it is my firm belief there is a better way. But like many aspects of the farewell tribute process, you may have to be willing to try something new or move outside of your comfort zone a bit. Sometimes we need an assignment to get things done so here is one worth the risk.
If possible, right now, while your parents or grandparents or other close elders are still living, schedule an interview with them. Let them know that you’d like to write a two page life story about them and that they will get the chance to proofread and make any changes they would like to make.
Make sure they know that you intend to create a memento for children and grandchildren and hope to capture just the important stuff. Though you can ask as many questions as you’d like, by keeping the writing short it forces a focus and word smith process that is both tough and wonderful at the same time.
Having lost my mother this past May, I can attest to the fact that there can be a certain awkwardness to conversations with those we love as time begins to run short. We simply don’t know what to say.
Taking the time to write out a life story while the person is still living can burst this awkwardness and infuse important details, positive themes, and even future aspirations that might otherwise never have been shared. Who knows you may even find that the interview and writing process creates an important connection and memory. One thing is for sure, once past the awkwardness, this is very important work and potentially the foundation for the kind of obituary that truly captures the story of lifetime.
Then, once the difficult days of loss arrive and time comes to write an obituary, you already have a short life story to draw on to get the very best consolidated words to truly capture the essence of your loved one’s life.
As with the Gettysburg address and many other great works of literature, great writing communicates much utilizing very few words. This is the task of recording the story of a lifetime. A task of the highest importance and value and one worth capturing while you still can.
So tell me, what’s your life story?