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December 3, 2018 Beyond The Dash

Why Are So Many People Writing Their Own Obituaries?

Selfie obituaries are on the rise — why?

Why Are So Many People Writing Their Own Obituaries?
Find out why so many people find hope and comfort in writing their own life stories. (Getty Images)

The selfie obituary, also known as the auto-obituary, is a self-written obituary. Making the decision to write your own obituary is a personal choice—and one that can be quite emotional, depending on the reason for writing. Traditionally, obituaries have been written either by obituary editors, or loved ones of a deceased person with knowledge of their life. 

Why do people write their own life stories?

There are many reasons to write an auto-obituary:

  • To make a point about life

Most selfie obituaries are written by those who are terminally ill. Knowing that their time on earth is limited, they have the opportunity to write their own life story. Often, these obituaries are rich in detail, and give the reader a glimpse of what's really important in life. 

In 2015, Emily Debrayda Phillips, who was dying of pancreatic cancer, wrote her own life story. Like many who write their own obituaries, Emily started with a joke: 

It pains me to admit it, but apparently, I have passed away. Everyone told me it would happen one day but that's simply not something I wanted to hear, much less experience. Once again I didn't get things my way!

But this obituary has a lot to say about her life, as a "devoted daughter, an energetic teenager, a WCU graduate (summa cum laude), a loving wife, a comforting mother, a dedicated teacher, a true and loyal friend, and a spoiling grandmother," summing up her life as being over too quickly:

So…I was born; I blinked; and it was over. No buildings named after me; no monuments erected in my honor. 

But I DID have the chance to know and love each and every friend as well as all my family members. How much more blessed can a person be?

Obituaries such as these give us perspectives on life that can only death can reveal. Sometimes the authenticity and wisdom of a dying person's perspective on their own life is even more meaningful than a tribute written by their bereaved survivors.

  • To find motivation

Selfie obituaries are written for other reasons too. Some people write their own life stories as a way of setting personal goals, by creating a fictional life story in which they achieve their goals. Seeing how you could be remembered, if you achieved all your goals, can be a great motivator for some people. 

Writing a selfie obituary as a goal setting technique can give you personal perspective on how to achieve your goals. However, these obituaries should be for personal reference and reflection, not publication.

  • To control the way they're remembered

Another reason people write selfie obituaries is to ensure control over the way they are remembered. Writing your own story means you get to decide which tales to tell, and how to frame your life story for those who knew you, as well as those who didn't. 

People also write their own obituaries because they don't trust their survivors to tell their story correctly, or fear a brutally honest obituary. When someone leaves this life on bad terms with their survivors, they may feel the need to write their own tribute. 

  • To write their own brutally honest obituary

There are people out there who prefer to be remembered exactly as they were, warts and all. Rather than putting a positive spin on every aspect of their life, brutal selfie obituaries allow the dying person to poke fun at their own life—sometimes even accentuating details that are less flattering. 

In January of 2017, a Wisconsin woman penned her own obituary, which went viral. People loved Kay Ann Heggestad's humorous take on life, death, and herself. Though not exactly "brutal", this obituary is certainly honest. She takes aim at her own "wimpy" reaction to her terminal illness, and the notion that death is bad. A self-penned obit can give the reader reassurance when someone is at peace with their own death, and her lightness takes some of the sting out of her death. 

  • To comfort their survivors

Writing your own obituary can provide your survivors with a direct link to your own feelings about death. Being able to read a life story that accepts or welcomes death at the end of a long, happy life is a great comfort to the bereaved. Showing your sense of humor lives on, even in the face of death, shows the grieving that life goes on, and that they will be able to move on from the loss in time. 

Most selfie obituaries give their writers some control over their remembrance, and allow them to do one final act of service for their survivors. Auto-obituary writers take the writing of the obituary off of their loved ones' plates at a time when they are busy with funeral plans, and also give final words of wisdom and comfort for those left to mourn. 

An exercise in reflection

The selfie obituary is a means of exploring your own life. Whether or not you are anticipating a near death, writing about life and reflecting from an end-of-life perspective can remind you what's important. It's also a chance to explore grief and possible death-related fears. For some, this exercise is too morbid. But there are many reasons to try, if you are open to examining your own life story. 

Create an Obituary

If you have written a selfie obituary to be published at the time of your death, remember to leave the document with a trusted relative, friend or estate executor who can publish it on your behalf. Even better is to create a legal will outlining all of your final wishes, and include your auto-obituary. That way, you can ensure your story is told, your way, at the end of your life.

Not sure what to write?

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