Not so long ago, I had a very vivid dream in which I died—very violently. This horrific hallucination felt so “real” that it took me almost an hour to steady my hammering heart and fall back to sleep.
Even now, months later, nuances of this nightmare linger, causing me to contemplate just how tenuous life is and how my story would be told after I perish. Morbid, huh?
Of course, one would think that as an amateur genealogist and avid writer, I would have already penned my own “this is your life” piece. I mean, come on: Considering that I spend hour upon hour researching and/or writing about the lives of our families’ ancestors, I would have naturally told my own story by now—right? Well…ummm… (Pardon me, while I hang my head in shame.)
Okay, enough procrastinating! Yes, I know that no one wants to contemplate their own mortality, but let’s face it: death does happen to us all. Better to be prepared than to pretend that I am immortal, so I guess I best get started.
First and foremost in my self-penned obituary, I would need to document my birth date and place. Check and check. Next, I need to reference family (parents, siblings, spouse, children, etc.)… Checks all around. Educational background and work experience… Check and check. Hobbies and interests… well, genealogy is a given. Would cheering at my kids’ sporting events count as a hobby, I wonder? Hmmm…
Okay, now I have the basics written down. However, being the person I am, before I craft my own death notice, naturally I must peruse other people’s obituaries to get a sense of what a “good” obit entails. (Yep, I’m one of THOSE people…) Consequently, I have trolled the web for well-written and/or unique life stories. Those written with a dash (or more) of humor sure score high marks with me.
Take, for example, Norma F. Brewer, who joked that she “passed away while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. She never realized her life goal of reaching the summit but made it to the base camp.” Brilliant, just brilliant! Sadly, though, most of us only make it to base camp, Norma.
Raymond Alan Brownley, a.k.a. Big Al, “was world-renowned for his lack of patience, not holding back his opinion, and a knack for telling it like it is. He was highly proficient at cursing. He liked four-letter words just about as much as four-wheel drive pick-up trucks.” Wow! I am pretty sure that I know some people who could identify with this guy… some are even scattered about the branches of our own family trees!
Walter George Bruhl, Jr. channels his inner Monty Python with he “is a dead person; he is no more; he is bereft of life; he is deceased; he has rung down the curtain and gone to join the choir invisible; he has expired and gone to meet his maker.” Sounds suspiciously like John Cleese’s hilarious sketch, doesn’t it?
John E. Holdens, a.k.a. Jack, “was widowed ten years ago after 61 years of marriage to Elaine Ewing Holden. He has had a number of other wives recently, none of which were his.” Now, that made me giggle! You go, John!
Val Patterson‘s obituary confesses a variety of tongue-in-cheek transgressions: “Now that I have gone to my reward, I have confessions and things I should now say. As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest. Also, I really am NOT a Ph.D. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan at the U of U, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a Ph.D. diploma came in the mail. I didn’t even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters “Ph.D.” even stood for. For all of the electronic engineers I have worked with, I’m sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked very well and were well-engineered, and I always made you laugh at work. Now to that really mean park ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again. To Disneyland, you can now throw away that banned for life file you have on me, I’m not a problem anymore—and SeaWorld San Diego, too, if you read this.”
Little did his neighbors know, but in this life, Aaron Joseph Purmort was a superhero. “Civilians will recognize him best as Spiderman and thank him for his many years of service, protecting our city. His family knew him only as a kind and mild-mannered art director who always had the right cardigan and the right thing to say (even if it was wildly inappropriate).” And here I thought Spidey was Peter Parker… Silly me!
After reading Harry Weathersby Stamps‘ obituary, I am sorry that I never had the pleasure to meet him. He sounds like he was an absolute hoot: “He despised phonies, his 1969 Volvo (which he also loved), know-it-all Yankees, Southerners who used the words veranda and porte cochere to put on airs, eating grape leaves, Law and Order (all franchises), cats, and Martha Stewart. In reverse order. He particularly hated Day Light Savings Time, which he referred to as The Devil’s Time. It is not lost on his family that he died the very day that he would have had to spring his clock forward. This can only be viewed as his final protest.”
Although the obituary for Charles Clark Wheeler was not self-penned, as evidenced from the last line, “May you rest peacefully, honey.”, his loved ones infused the piece with plenty of humor, starting off with “Charles “Charlie” Clark Wheeler…kicked the bucket, bought the farm, and ate his last pretzel…” If I kick the bucket, buy the farm, or eat my last pretzel before I have the chance to complete my self-penned obituary, I would hope that my family would use humor in my tribute like Charles’ family did.
The personality of Lore White shines through in her obituary: “When you read this, I will be at the big beautiful golf course in the sky waiting for my tee time. …Gotta go. They just called us, God’s “Fearsome Foursome,” to the tee box. We’re a heck of a team. …See ya, but not too soon I hope. P.S. No funeral. Much too boring.” Classic! May you always stay on par, Lore!
Or maybe I should make it simple and to the point like Doug Legler, when he penned: “Doug Died.” ‘Nuff said! Reminds me of the final line of the song, I Wanna Be a Cowboy: “My name is Ted, and one day I’ll be dead, yo-yo.”
However, anyone who knows me knows that my obituary will have more than a smidgen of sentiment. That’s just who I am. (Cue the violins and tears…) When all is said and done, I will use my obituary to honor my family and friends who made my life fuller, like Beth O’Rourke did: “Of all the things I did in this life, nothing compared to being with Brendan and our children. I fought every day to stay alive and to be with them. No person could ever ask for a more loving and supportive husband, always my champion, always. I enjoyed every moment we shared; the great ones, the sad ones, the easy and the hard. I pray they have learned to feel the deep sense of faith that I shared. No matter where this journey brings me next, I will forever carry their love with me, as I am sure there is a piece of me that will forever remain with them.”
Of course, I appreciate satire and witticisms too, so, naturally, my obit will be liberally laced with quirky anecdotes and humorous undertones. Something along the lines of Emily Debrayda Phillips‘ obituary, I would think: “It pains me to admit it, but apparently, I have passed away. Everyone told me it would happen one day, but that’s simply not something I wanted to hear much less experience. Once again I didn’t get things my way! That’s been the story of my life all my life…..So, I was born; I blinked, and it was over. No buildings named after me; no monuments erected in my honor. But I DID have the chance to know and love each and every friend as well as all my family members. How much more blessed can a person be?” Well-written, Emily…I couldn’t have said it better.