What is the summary of your life? Most of us are somewhere between “convicted felon” and “millionaire philanthropist.” For an interesting assignment, find some random obituaries and read about what happened to people between birth and death. Then write your own. Whatever your story will be, make it sassy enough so others will say, “What a grand life she had!”
Many, many years ago, to earn my degree in journalism from the University of Idaho my last requirement was to complete an internship at the Lewiston Tribune. I eagerly anticipated that I would write compelling, award-winning feature stories to be published on the front page under my huge byline. Instead, I was assigned to write obituaries.
The job did not require talent in creative writing, investigative journalism, or serious analysis. My task was to condense a person’s life to a few paragraphs, spell the name correctly, and include funeral details. Initially, I resented the assignment but soon grew to appreciate the information and anecdotes about the dearly departed. I often imagined extra details about who they were and what they did.
Now when I begin each morning with coffee and the newspaper, I read the front page, swear about politics, and then turn to the obituaries. I study the smiling faces of strangers, and I calculate how many were younger than I am. Then I read their stories.
The black-and-white photos of children always bring a tear, and I grieve along with their parents, brothers, sisters, and grandparents. The older people have the best obituaries because they often include fascinating facts about being rugged pioneers, former ballerinas, independent cowboys, brave soldiers, happy homemakers, or those who fought courageous battles with cancer and now rest in the arms of Jesus.
The short obituaries cause me to wonder why the person only had one paragraph of life worth mentioning. Maybe no one knew the hobbies, adventures, and family that might have been. Maybe the survivors didn’t want to pay for a longer article. Or, maybe that is what the person wanted, and who am I to question why there were no funeral services?
When I conduct writing workshops for teenagers, I often advise them to write their own obituaries. After an initial hesitation they get to work and usually produce confident predictions of being the future president, inventor, movie star, or football hero. Their long and happy lives will be full of loving children and grand adventures, and then a park or building will be named after them in honor of their contributions to society. Their cockiness is contagious.
When I do the same assignment with middle-aged women, the results are different. Their imagined obituaries focus on family, travels with their spouse, and jobs, in that order. By midlife, the youthful desire to save the planet evolves into the more attainable goal to be the best volunteer at a local charity, to retire from a productive career, or to be celebrated as an unforgettable, loveable grandmother.
Occasionally we’ll read an obituary about people we knew and loved. The best way to honor their memory is to get busy living the extra days we’ve been given that they didn’t have. Carpe Diem.
Today’s blog is fueled by a 2010 Cinder from Snake River Valley. This delightful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec is available at The Grape Escape in Boise for about $34. I enjoyed it recently with one of my favorite friends, and because life is short and meant to be savored, we also shared a decadent piece of chocolate cake. Don’t tell my trainer.