Writing a Loving Obituary Ahead of Time
A few years ago, while they were still healthy and independent and a comfortable distance—it seemed to me—from dying, my parents asked me to write their obituaries. “I know it seems strange,” Dad said. “But we’d like to be sure that everything important gets mentioned.”
After my initial discomfort with writing about them in the past tense, I realized what an honor they were bestowing upon me. They were asking me to help them sum up their existence, to make sense of who they were and what they had accomplished in their time on this earth.
And thus we embarked upon a poignant journey through each of their lives, as a couple and as individuals, remembering things they now saw with the benefit of hindsight as turning points—both the crucial choices and the roads not taken—and weaving them all together into a story they could leave behind for their children, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
What began as an awkward and strange request turned into a tender and profound exploration of my parents’ lives—with them guiding the passage. When my mother died two years later, the obituary was ready. I handed it to the funeral director, after making the final edits for the date of her death and other details, with a sense of peace: this was how she wanted to be remembered. These were the important things.
Done mindfully and with respect, writing an obituary can be part of the process of letting a loved one go. As the narrative mosaic of a person’s history comes together—work, family, beliefs, passions, accomplishments—our personal loss takes on a different perspective. We begin to see the person we have lost as belonging to a wider community than just our family or circle of friends. We begin to see that now they belong to the ages.
Excerpt from “Writing a Loving Obituary Ahead of Time” from One Caring Place.