I was digging through an old grocery bag of papers and artwork from my school days when I found a news story that detailed my death. I must have written it for English class. Here it is:
Marie, 16, died today after saving five girls from drowning. She was lifeguarding at the YWCA girl’s camp, Camp Wanakiwin. The girls were having trouble swimming to shore from an airplane that crashed in the lake near the camp.
Said one of the rescued girls, “She was going back to the plane to get a sixth girl when the plane blew up.”
Marie had completed her sophomore year at (specific school name deleted to protect the innocent). Her anatomy teacher said that she was witty and smart. “I used to give her a hard time,” he said. “Her presence will be sorely missed in school.”
Marie was one of the top swimmers and cross-country skiers at (school name), holding the city titles for 100-yard breaststroke and girl’s senior high cross-country skiing.
The funeral will be held at First United Methodist Church, 10 a.m., this Wednesday.
I’m sure I wrote the story tongue-in-cheek (delusions of grandeur, much?!), but it gives a glimpse into the things that were important to me at the time: mainly, my lifeguarding class and athletics. My anatomy teacher was my favorite because he was always cracking jokes and made learning fun. And what better way to leave this world than in an effort to help others, combined with a big explosion!
Later, after I became a mother and wrote a relative’s obituary, I wrote a serious obituary about myself. Motherhood and my relative’s death reminded me of my mortality, and the journalist in me wanted to know that the last words written about me would be somewhat accurate. That obituary has been lost to the winds of time, but I recall it focused on my career and role as a mother.
Lately I’ve been considering taking a stab at another one. Not to be morbid, but because I’m not sure that my kids or relatives know enough to do it justice. I mean, think about it. Good obituary writing is an art. And for some people, it’s the only time they’ll ever get in the newspaper other than their birth announcement. I’d really rather have my obituary say more than I liked knitting and was a good speller.
I’ve saved a couple of friends’ obituaries I thought were well written. But I suppose that even after I rewrite mine, I’ll have to update it — sort of like a resume or a will. Things change the longer you live. Accomplishments that were important to you in high school no longer matter as much when you’re in your fifties.
From my past efforts I know that writing your own obituary causes you to take stock of life. It makes you ask: Is what I’m doing really important? (To yourself or to society.) Is this how I want to be remembered? Do I need to change something?
Who will write your obituary after you die? Do you think they’ll get it right? Does it matter or is it all vanity? It’s something to consider.