Aside from my college application essays, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write was my Grandpa’s obituary. Summing up my own burgeoning life and personal philosophy while trying to impress a faceless admissions board felt nearly impossible at age eighteen. Highlighting what meant the most to my Grandpa during his eighty-plus years on the planet while still feeling hollowed out by the sudden shock of losing him was equally daunting.
Instead of impressing a bunch of people who will dictate your future, the obituary explains your past to those who lost track of you throughout the decades. Townies ruminate over the lives of people they knew—either personally or through reputation—over a cup of diner coffee. People who lost track of you over the years suck in a little breath and say oh, how sad when someone sends a link.
It’s especially hard when your family turns to you, Published Writer, to boil down a loved one’s life to a few hundred words. We sat around the living room, tossing out things we thought Grandpa would want highlighted. (This is ironic, because he probably would have been shaken up about the “performance” of us obsessing about it.) He was proud of the business he co-owned and operated. We were proud of how knowledgeable and resourceful he was. We had to make sure we highlighted all of the relations who survived him. After several drafts we arrived at what was published, which I think sums up my Grandpa’s life very well.
But I’m totally enamored with the idea of writing my own obituary after hearing about Marge Miley. The columnist and editor gave her funeral home a story to run upon her death in her paper. The story is sweet, capturing all the things that were important to the recently departed. It highlights her professional accomplishments, her pride in being a Girl Scout, and her love of typesetting. And, as a Published Writer and Professional Communicator, I love the idea of having control over the final message I’ll leave in this world.