Genealogy Studies Program

Write Your Own

Last year teacher Emily Phillips died and the obituary she wrote for herself went viral (Ed Mazza, “A Teacher Writes Her Own Obituary,” Huffington Post, 3 April 2015). A lot of people thought it was a terrific idea and anyone who read it has to agree. Among the classic lines it contained, “I was born, I blinked; and it was over,” struck me as a great truth, but at the same time a genealogical disappointment. Where were you born? Who were your parents?

This wasn’t the point. Emily was sharing the things she valued most about her life – not what fills in blanks on a genealogical chart. Her sense of humor at the end drew hundreds of thousands of views to mark the passing of someone they’d never met.

It inspired something else, too. What a great idea to avoid the inevitable lists of survivors and accomplishments. Put it in context and make it fun. Say what is important – show, don’t tell. Like the verse on an old tombstone – the picture it conjures is so much clearer than the name or the dates. There’s more to life than names and dates and places.

Melinde Lutz Byrne