By Lee Scott
Years ago, when I was a college student, one of my professors suggested we write our own obituaries. He was an English professor, and this was our first writing assignment.
We all sat there looking at him like he was crazy, but he said the exercise would achieve many objectives. First, it provided him with some background on each of us, but it also provided us with a structure for the assignment, and it forced us to pause in our 20s and dream about who we would be in the future. I wish I had a copy of that paper because I do not remember what I wrote, but this began my fascination with obituaries.
The more obituaries I read in the newspaper, the more I realized that many people were dying without their life story being told. One obituary I recall reading was about an elderly woman. It read, “She liked crossword puzzles and her soaps.” I threw down the newspaper and said to my husband, “OH, MY GOODNESS! She is 96 years old. Don’t tell me the only thing she did on this Earth for 96 years was write crossword puzzles and watch soaps.”
He suggested that maybe all her close friends and family were dead and that maybe people did not know what she did all her life. Or maybe family members were too overwrought at the time of death and just filled out the form at the funeral parlor.
And so, my quest began. I wrote my own obituary and put it with our important papers, and then I did my husband’s. He was not crazy about the idea, but as we talked, I learned more about him that I did not know. Here is a man I have been married to for years, but who actually had a life before me. (Something I keep forgetting.)
After that, I started writing obituaries for friends; not when they died, but while they were still alive. I like to exaggerate the future in my obituaries too. That dream of going to New Zealand and Australia has already occurred in the pre-death obituary and that future novel has become a Pulitzer Prize winner.
When I did my Beaufort girlfriend’s obituary she laughed and sent it off to her Northern friends. That gave them the opportunity to fill in the blanks of her life story.
There is a beauty in obituaries that is missed sometimes. “Grandma’s Christmas Eve dinners were the annual event the family looked forward to each year.” “Every tool in Granddad’s garage will be a reminder of the projects we did together.”
For me, obituaries are not just death notices, they are life stories. And I am still writing my own.