Why You Should Write Your Own Obituary: A Reflective Writing Exercise

Jennie Shulkin, Override Cofounder

Someone once told me that she writes her own obituary as a writing exercise at least once a year. 

At first, I was shocked. I thought this was totally strange behavior. Why would you want to come face-to-face with the idea of dying? Why would you want to make it so real through a tangible exercise like this?

But this woman explained that she had no intention of dying anytime soon and instead used it as a tool for self-reflection and priority reevaluation.

I was intrigued. I sat down and I tried it myself. Always a fan of writing, I found myself getting emotionally invested in the writing exercise and the story of my life.  I had to really think: what parts of my life were most important? What did I want people to remember? What did I want to glaze over? Who did I want to call out as most important to me?

And through this exercise, I started to piece together the parts of my life that I felt mattered -- to me and to those closest to me. Summarizing my life to around 1800 words meant that things that I spent painstaking hours on became irrelevant or reduced to a sentence or two. The details of how good my grades were, what outfits I wore, or anything else mundane wouldn’t matter after I was gone. 

The experience was emotional – I experienced intense emotions of pride, sadness, love, and fear. All at the same time. 

At the end of the exercise, I had a document that summarized who I was, the life I’ve lived, and how I wanted to be remembered. I clicked “save.” 

I may do it again next year. And the year after that. 

Here’s why I think you should do it, too.

In our hectic lives, pausing to contemplate your mortality through writing your own obituary can be profoundly enlightening. Though initially daunting, this exercise offers valuable insights, irrespective of age or health. Specifically, it can help you with: 

1. Priority Evaluation: Writing your own obituary prompts introspection on whether your current pursuits align with your true priorities and aspirations. Sometimes in the moment, you can feel like something so small matters so much. You may realize when writing your obituary that it doesn’t.

2. Gratitude: In writing your obituary, you naturally want to write about the things you did well, the things you are proud of, the love you’ve experienced. This exercise will inevitably make you feel grateful for the more positive experiences you’ve had. Going forward, you might even start looking at life’s more fleeting moments with a different perspective. You can think to yourself, “Would this be something I’d remember when reflecting on my life?” And you may be more grateful for it. 

3. Mortality Acknowledgment: Even though it’s not the point of the exercise, confronting death cultivates acceptance of the inevitable – that one day we will all die – allowing us to embrace daily life and live a more purposeful existence.

4. Self-Reflection: What was lacking from your obituary this time around? What do you wish you could’ve included? What do you hope to be able to write by next year or the year after that?  This exercise serves as a catalyst for personal growth, inspiring actionable steps towards a more meaningful future.

So on a rainy day, give it a try. You might be surprised how much it means to you.

Posted on 
April 26, 2024

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