Your own goodbye

Published 27, Nov, 2012

Nathaniel Casco on penning your own obit. “This may sound a little morbid, but think about it…an obituary is really a synopsis of you and the life you lived (not the life you didn’t live).”

Living with HIV, many of us have often thought about the day we say farewell to our loved ones and friends. I know I have thought of this many times, especially when I was very sick and in hospital. I went through a stage that I did think it was it, and I sure didn’t want it to BE it. I hadn’t lived the life I wanted to live. I always thought “tomorrow I’ll do something different. Next year will be better. I will change my life direction real soon. There is still time. I’m too tired today, but starting tomorrow I will be a different person.”

What would they say about you? Have ever considered writing your own obituary? Don’t you want to have the final word?

Beaudelaire once said that “true self-worth is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously without losing your mind”. I have felt the same on occasion crying myself through heartbreaking issues, while also being angry with those who didn’t understand.

We live a fine line between good and evil, in both wanting acceptance, and judging those who refuse or are too blind to provide it.

J.D Meier’s book ‘Getting results the agile way’ talks about setting yourself up for the opportunity to think about how you’d like to be remembered and immediately take stock of your life goals and where you are in making them reality.

We all need a good cry once in a while. It’s in our DNA. Too often we stop the tears to the point that we become too afraid of what would happen if and when we did allow ourselves to cry, sob, grieve and break.

I decided to write my own obituary a while ago. You will ask yourself why on earth I would do such a thing. It’s simple. Allowing yourself the permission to think about death, especially your own, is healthy. It allows you the opportunity, a chance, to evaluate and clear the clouds in our life and focus on what really matters and is important to you. It also gives you a new outlook on what we're doing with the time we have and if it’s what we really want to be doing with it.

Also, wouldn’t you want some input into what people are going to say about the person you were? I came up with some common questions to consider:

  • How would I like to be described?
  • What am I proud of?
  • What facts are important?
  • Whom and what did I leave behind?
  • What exists because I was here?
  • What were my talents and how did I share them?
  • Who am I grateful for?
  • Who do I want to know I've gone and how shall they be notified?

Funnily enough, the first things that came to my mind were things such as bank account numbers and details, general and computer passwords, email contacts and details telling people where to find my important records and files. I also added a special note for a close friend to do a little clearing out of some of my belongings before family members got a hold of my house. (There are things that mums should never see or know about relating to their son), which bills should be paid and commitments to be changed.

Give it a go. Try the following. Firstly write a true account of your life to date. No one needs to see it. This is for you personally to begin with. If you feel more courageous, ask a close friend or family member to write one for you and who you trust to tell it how it is.

Read it over and ask yourself some basic questions; if I die today, would I die happy? What’s missing from my life? What is missing from my obituary?

Next step is to take it to a new level by writing your fantasy obituary. In this one include all the things you wish you had done, the experiences you wish you had.

Finally compare the 2. Are they very different? You’re not dead yet, so get out there and start making changes that you need to so that you can “live up” to your fantasy obituary.

For me it was like a spiritual process. A manual or guide for those I left behind. It also helped me make a life check on where I am and where I want to be, setting realistic goals in achievable chunks. It was in no way a bucket list for my life, it was an awakening.

For some people it will simply be a list of facts that may not be commonly known to everyone. For other it could simply be a reassurance that you lived a life with no regrets. There will be some who want to share a meaningful poem or inspirational quote that formed you into the person you are. Then there are those who want to end it with humour, for example, “a cigarette may shorten your life by two minutes, a beer may shorten your life by four minutes, but a day working in a job you loathe shortens your life by eight hours".

Take the challenge. It’s surprising how you actually feel afterwards. You may even be surprised that your life is in fact more full of things you always wished for than you allow yourself to believe. It’s a great time to reflect on you and note to yourself that at the end of the day, you really do matter.