Why would you write your own obituary?

A recent article in The Guardian reported that dying “well” in a “planned and personalized way” has become a bit of a trend. “One of the chief desires of our time is to turn everything we touch into a reflection of who we are, how we live, and how we want others to view us—and death is no exception,” writes Marisa Meltzer.

In the article, Meltzer writes about death doulas, green burials and other alternative death practices, and a recent trend called death cleaning. Which is basically Marie Kondo for people getting ready to die. Totally serious.

What the article didn’t include was anything about obituaries or preparing one’s own obituary. I’m not sure this trend has caught on yet.

I’m often surprised at the way people react when I tell them I help people write their own obituaries. I think of pre-writing one’s own obituary as a positive, life-affirming activity that will be a huge help to your loved ones when you pass away. But some people view it as morbid or depressing or narcissistic.

And, so, here’s my response to why you should write your own obituary

1. It’s fun. Really.

It’s an opportunity to reflect on your life, your accomplishments (and foibles), your passions, your quirks. What do you think people love about you? What do you want this world to remember about you? It’s a tough assignment for sure, but why not start a working document that you can edit throughout your life? Perhaps something is missing. You’ve always wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or learn to play an instrument or buy a vintage car. Or perhaps you write that you love dancing but you rarely do it anymore. For many of us, there’s still time! Writing your obituary helps you take stock of your life.

2. Your loved ones will thank you.

Pulling together an obituary after someone you love dies is no easy feat. Yes, it’s cathartic. It’s important to tell your loved one’s stories, and it helps the grieving process. But it’s a lot of work. You’ve got to track down a resume, find dates and other important facts. Ideally, you should be thoughtful, meaningful, eloquent, maybe even funny. All while you’re grieving and planning a funeral or memorial, and preferably within 72 hours. If there’s something prepared, even a start, it’s a help to those family members who are still in the early stages of grief.

3. You get to have the last word.

Unless you’re a celebrity or a published author, the obit really is the last word about you. Writing your own obituary guarantees that you’re in control of what those words say. (See very last sentence.)

4. Your obit will be better for it.

There’s a reason that journalists at major metropolitan newspapers like The New York Times pre-write the obituaries of famous people. They want them to be good! They know it will take a lot of work to make that happen. In the famous and very fine profile of The New York Times legendary obit writer Alden Whitman (you can read “Mr. Bad News” here), Gay Talese writes that the obits “that leave Whitman untroubled are those that he is able to complete before the individual dies.” Talese goes on to quote from the obit of a New York Daily News reporter named Lowell Limpus, who had pre-written the obit. “This is the last of the 87,000 or more stories I’ve written to appear in the News. It must be the final one because I died yesterday.… I wrote this, my own obituary, because I know more about the subject than anybody else and I’d rather have honest than flowery.…”

Next step?

If you would like more step-by-step guidance in writing your own obituary, I have written a short e-book to help you get organized and start writing.

dear person services

I write obituaries, living obituaries, eulogies & speeches