BANDON — I wrote my first obituary when my husband Randy died seven years ago. Although I am a writer and editor, it was one of the hardest things I ever did.
"How do you sum up a life in a few hundred words? How do you put those words on paper — and do it in a timely fashion to meet the deadlines (no pun intended) precipitating the need—the funereal decisions, the communications, the legal, financial, and daily life issues? Honestly, I don’t know. Because even though my husband was ill for a long time, it never once occurred to me to think about writing his obituary. Not even after all our talks about "what would happen if…” and, then, “what will happen when….”
I do know that I was pretty good at blocking out a lot of things that at the time felt unmanageable and difficult and bigger than I was. Too busy to think about tying up the soon-to-come loose ends that indeed came all too soon.
Of course, I know that’s not the way it is for everyone when loved ones make their transition. I admire people who find the inner strength to deal with the curve balls life deals them at times like this. I personally aspire to that strength when there is another death in my life—because surely, inevitably, there will be.
Talking about death and dying, especially when it’s personal, is challenging at best, uncomfortable, sad, or fear-inducing at worst. But now, years later, I see things a little differently. I see how embracing the conversation can be a profound aspect of the grieving process. And how part of that process can include celebrating the lives and stories of our loved ones…with our words.
We all need help to do the hard stuff sometimes, whether for ourselves or others. Ways to make the impossible a little more possible. I hope my hard-earned tips here on writing what ultimately needs to be written will help.
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Three tips for writing obituaries and eulogies:
1) Jot down 10 or so traits that come to mind when you think of your loved one, like sports, nicknames, hobbies, physical characteristics.
2) Compile your list of traits, adding new thoughts and memories to flesh them out.
3) Write a great “hook.” For example, “My grandmother was as tiny as a bird, but when she spoke she roared like a lion.”
You are invited to write your own “Living Legacy Letter” at Connolly's free workshop, “Writing Your Own Living Legacy Letter,” at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, hosted by Pacific View Assisted Living and Memory Care in Bandon. Harvard Girl Word Services offers full writing and editing services for obituaries, eulogies, “living letters,” and memoirs.