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Only You Can Tell The Story

So, have you written it, yet? Your obituary, I mean. If not, get cracking. You never know…

Last week’s column, on the wonderful things we learn about people from the obituaries published in the newspaper, drew a reaction from a faithful reader: She was “a little disappointed” I didn’t encourage people to write their own obituaries.

“Take that time to thank those who made a difference in their life. Or share special moments they experienced, or even things they wish they had done,” Barb advised.

Good point.

An old curmudgeon who worked at a newspaper where I once labored illustrated the point (years before I was employed there). The story goes that Bill, as we’ll call him, was sitting at his typewriter banging out some copy one day when he winced and clutched his chest.

“What’s wrong, Bill?”

“I think I’m having a heart attack.”

“Well, for Pete’s sake, stop what you’re doing and let’s get you to the hospital.”

“Can’t.”

“Why? What is it?”

“It’s my obituary. I figure I’d better do it now, because if I die, you people will screw it up.”

It turned out he was having a heart attack, but recovered after being driven to the hospital by co-workers.

How true, though. How can anyone sum up a person’s life better than the subject of an obituary?

Anyone who’s had to write one — or, more likely, struggle through it with help from a funeral director — understands.

Will your son understand he was the proudest accomplishment of your life? Will your daughter realize whatever honors you were granted paled into insignificance beside her?

Stricken with grief, with your spouse think to mention how much pride you took in the things you sewed or the old car you restored?

Will anyone think to mention why you chose a career as a teacher or a nurse?

Will anyone pause in writing your obituary to wonder if there was a reason you held onto that trophy you won decades ago or that old Army uniform still hanging in the closet?

You get the idea.

Spare your loved ones of the frustration that comes from understanding they just couldn’t get your life’s story quite right. Give them one more reason to be grateful to you.

Not a gifted writer? Here’s a secret I learned years ago from a great one: No one is a born wordsmith. Good writing is hard work.

And it doesn’t matter. Just put the information down on paper (yes, paper that can be found easily, rather than a computer file buried in gigabytes of other stuff). Someone else can polish it.

But no one else can tell the story.

Reach Myer at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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