Sounds ghoulish but hear me out. You’ll get more energy to create the bold new life you want by pre-writing your obituary instead of a developing a personal mission statement.
We’ve been told that having personal mission statements can codify out what is important to us. Wow! That sounds completely soul-less, doesn’t it?
Pre-writing your obituary gives dreams life
Pre-writing your own obituary, on the other hand, can list the same dreams and goals but it gives those longings some blood and bone. Think of it as the difference between tugging your face up each morning and making an actual appointment for a consultation with a plastic surgeon. Aspirations versus actions!
How I learned this
A few years ago, my hands-down, most favorite aunt in the entire world died. Writing Mary Lee’s obit was my job.
I have a reporter friend who moonlights writing obits for famous people for the big national newspapers. He gave me this professional tip. Don’t ever lead with when someone died. Lead with what that person was known for.
Pre-writing your obituary made sense
That was a completely blinding flash of the obvious. Starting an obit that way helped others understand what the world had lost with the passing of this person.
But it was also compelling advice for those of us still on this side of the grass. That suggestion brought home why pre-writing your obituary could be life-changing.
Five reasons to pre-write your obituary
Now I’m sharing it with you. These are my five reasons for saying that pre-writing your obituary is far better than a personal mission statement. And in some cases, I’ve used an example from my aunt Mary Lee, who’s death helped me hone my own direction in life.
1.What are we known for?
Start with your current reality – who you are, where you came from, what has driven you in life. It’s your essence. Maybe you were a brilliant doctor who invented some cure or a shameless exhibitionist who excelled as an armpit musician.
What do others use as shorthand for you? “You remember Linda. She was that woman with the funny country sayings.” Or “Mary, wasn’t she the one who rode her Harley with the Driven’ Divas?”
Or it could be a deeper, not always seen quality. “Debbie could be tough but there was no greater friend when you’d screwed up and needed help digging out.”
Whatever it is, accept and own it. Be brutally and hysterically honest. Obviously others liked your essence. Time for you to make friends with it.
“Mary Lee Austin Shapiro Lind, a passionate fisherwoman and golfer whose exciting life took her from the backwoods of Florida to the bright lights of Chicago and ultimately to Texas, was reunited with her deceased husband, Harry Lind on June 22, 2017. She will be buried on July 29th next to Harry in the Old Port Isabel Cemetery. Together they will overlook the Laguna Madre, where Harry and Mary Lee met and spent happy days competing to see who could reel in the largest trout.”
2. What challenges shaped us?
We’ve all got a backstory. Writing your own obit is a gut check on whether we’ve spent too much of our time on earth letting it limit us. Maybe our parents or siblings ignored us or had addictions, or we were abused.
Whatever our background, we survived it to become adults. That’s a source of pride and strength. Something in those challenges made us bold. We need to tell ourselves that version of this story – over and over.
“While still a child herself, Mary Lee took on the job of raising her younger brothers, sisters and even a baby niece while her own parents struggled to feed the family. During WW2, she moved to Chicago with her sister Merab and brother Johnny, continuing her caretaker role while she took the city by storm.
Only four of Mary Lee’s siblings six siblings survived babyhood but her fight to keep as many alive as possible made her into our family’s Auntie Mame.”
3. Who was our priority?
I’m the first to admit that I am too driven. That drive was inherited from my “Mustang” (enlisted man to officer) Marine Corps father and my first-generation immigrant mother. Sometimes that drive made the most important people in my life secondary to my career.
But those will still be the people listed in my obit. I guarantee it won’t be a boss or the president of the company I used to work for.
If we didn’t make enough room for our family and dearest friends while we were building a professional life, we need to start now. Put people before projects.
4. What made us happy?
Daydream about what you want life to be now. Then start building that life in some small way immediately
I love camping, so we bought a Vintage Cruiser travel trailer. And together my husband and I decided to make our camping schedule concrete and commit to six trips a year. My obit now can honestly say, “Linda camped frequently in the outdoors she loved.”
Is there a charity you want to devote time to? Or do you want to become a community activist for a cause you believe in? Write the specifics in your obituary. Include the name of the charity, what you do for them, the office or position you want to have. Make it real.
Or do you want to eventually live somewhere else or travel? Put down the place you moved to or the places you will visit by the time you suck down your last breath.
“As her siblings moved around the country, Mary Lee loaded up Morry, her golf clubs, her fishing tackle and her silver poodle and made regular visits to check on everyone.
In 1973, she again moved to help family. Mary Lee relocated to South Padre Island in Texas to live with her brother, John Austin and his family. She met Harry Lind on one of her first nights on the Island at the Trade Winds. They fell in love over a shared love for fishing and Harry’s appreciation of Mary Lee’s incredible cooking.”
5. What will our end times be?
We can’t predict the circumstances that kill us or how long it might take. But we can predetermine our attitude and directives.
Writing this all down and sharing it now won’t be morbid. Since we are still bold and going strong, it will just be another of our quirks.
And doing this as soon as possible gives us clear-eyed nudges to talk to family about exactly how we want to go. And what we want when we can no longer take care of ourselves. I promise you, these decisions get made with or without us. Better to be driving this bus.
“Mary Lee recently moved to the Llano Nursing Home where she hit that place like a Gulf Coast hurricane. She appointed herself aide, confidant and cheerleader to the residents. Mary Lee was thrilled to be elected Valentine’s Day Queen by the staff and the patients. On Memorial Day, she announced she was ready to rejoin Harry and her beloved brother Johnny. Weeks later, she slipped away peacefully.”
I was with Mary Lee when she said she was tired and ready to be with the two men she’d loved and lost. It was not said sadly. It was very matter-of-fact, like she’d eaten enough and was ready to leave the table.
For a week or so, some family and friends worried that Mary Lee was giving up. That she had quit fighting to live. She was 93 years old, I thought. Wasn’t that long enough?
I proudly told most of those folks that my brazenly kickass aunt wasn’t giving up. Mary Lee had lived on her own terms. Mary Lee was now letting go on her own terms.
Pre-writing your obituary gets you living
That’s exactly what I want for myself and anyone I care about – including all the bold women in our tribe. Pre-writing our own obituary helps us get comfortable with the fact that life does end. That we have a finite shelf life.
And that knowledge gives us energy to get going and create our bolder life. Energy is what’s lacking from a mission statement that doesn’t animate the important things. What will we be known for? What challenges shaped up? Who and what were the people and activities and places we loved? And how will we keep living until the end?
What do you think of this idea?
So, what do you think about pre-writing your own obit? Are there other strategies you used to get on the road to a bold new life? Write and tell me. I love hearing from you.