Friday, September 30, 2011

Write Your Own Obituary!

by Kathi Diamant

Are you sensing a theme here? Several months ago I posted a blog, “How Not to Write an Obituary,” based on my experiences in writing my father’s obituary last November. Since then, I’ve written two more, one for my mother in March, and the latest, in August, for a dear friend, Glynn Bedington, who was, among other things, a wife and mother and a professional actor, director, producer…and writer. She died at age 61, of cancer. A few days after her death, I called Glynn’s husband, Paul, and asked him if he was getting any help in writing Glynn’s obit. Shyly, Paul responded that he had hoped I would write it. “After all,” he said,” after Glynn, you are the writer.”

I spent the next several days immersed in Glynn’s life, pouring over her family photographs, her 38-page Curriculum Vitae, her awards, letters and memorabilia that now represented for her six decades on earth. From a multitude of accomplishments and achievements, through conversations with her teenage daughters and husband, it was left to me to determine what was most important and meaningful, and I realized, again, that I was unequal to the task. The only person who could tell her story with ultimate clarity and truth was no longer with us.

As a biographer, I’ve encountered this problem before. A person’s life lays before you, in documents, files, and a mass of papers that provide the known facts. But the meaning of those facts is truly known only to the person who lived them.

Glynn was a good writer and author, with two published books and several professional articles, but not a single page, as far as I could tell, about her own life, in her own words.

When we think about our own death, which probably isn’t often for most of us, I imagine we all want to be remembered. In writing. We assume someone will write an obituary for us. But who? Will they know you, like you do? Does anyone? Of course not.

There's something else to think about. The exorbitant cost of placing an obit in a major daily newspaper has led to a new phenomenon: the lengthy online obituary. Once only the famous rated a 1,000 word piece (most newspaper obits run between 60-300 words) but now you, too, can have a mini-biography published, online. With so much more than the “who, what, where and when” possible, it’s more important than ever to think about this now, rather than when it too late. And we never know when that day will come.

My solution is that everyone writes their own obituary. No one else will do it like you can, especially if you are a writer. After all, this is your story. Who’s better than you?

Do it now. Open a notebook. Start with your name as you would like it to appear. Add in your parents’ names, and where you lived. Mention the important people and places, the accomplishments in each period of your life that meant the most to you, that molded and made you the person you have became. Have fun with it. Remember: you are alive, and your story isn’t over. Just write as much as you have lived so far. If you want to write an ending, imagine the most ideal circumstance. For example: “She died painlessly and at peace, surrounded by loving friends and family, after finally seeing the green flash at sunset on her 108th birthday” or whatever your best case scenario is.

Add to your notebook over the years, noting the lessons learned and the love engendered. And then, when your time comes, you can die at peace in the knowledge that your obituary will serve those who come after you, to know and appreciate the person you truly are.

Kathi Diamant is the award-winning author of “Kafka’s Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant” (“Best of the Best Geisel Award, San Diego Book Awards) published by Basic Books in 2003. “Kafka’s Last Love” has been critically reviewed in more than 60 publications, and translated into French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and will soon appear in Germany and Brazil. As director of the Kafka Project at SDSU since 1998, she has led the international search for a lost literary treasure, and this summer will be leading a “Magical Mystery Literary History Tour" to Prague, Krakow and Berlin. For more information, visit


Laurel Corona said...

What a good idea. Just hope none of them need to be posted soon!

Marjorie Hart said...

Thank you for this, and considerate of our survivors!

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