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MailTribune.com
  • Consider writing your own obituary

  • It's a typical Sunday evening in the Johnson household. There's a thin-crust, spinach-garlic pizza in the oven delivering its incredible aroma throughout the house. My husband and I are having a glass of wine and playing a game of scrabble on my iPad. He's winning.
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  • It's a typical Sunday evening in the Johnson household. There's a thin-crust, spinach-garlic pizza in the oven delivering its incredible aroma throughout the house. My husband and I are having a glass of wine and playing a game of scrabble on my iPad. He's winning.
    I've been pondering the idea of posing something a little out of the ordinary to him and decide this might be the moment to broach it. So I say, "How about a little later tonight, or maybe tomorrow night, you and I write our obituaries?"
    He stops, mid-Scrabble play, and looks at me incredulously, as if to say, "Who are you exactly?"
    Well, I'm an almost-68-year-old woman who reads the obituaries regularly. I'm especially fond of the ones with a photograph where the person looks close to their age at the time of death, and I like casual photos where the person is smiling widely. Don't we all want to be remembered smiling?
    I prefer obituaries that identify the cause of death — pure curiosity on my part, I suppose.
    And I like a little lightheartedness, the deceased person's favorite color possibly. I can imagine an obit that includes, "His favorite color was plaid and he loved a tall glass of tomato juice and buttermilk in the late afternoon — mixed together, equal portions of each."
    That should have been in my father's obituary. It wasn't. I'm a little sad about that.
    But, I digress. Let me return to my original query. I tell my wide-eyed husband I read an obituary recently, written by the deceased person before her death. I found it "charming," which is not a word typically used to describe the narrative outlining someone's life and recent death. But it fits.
    The woman was named "Sharon," same name as mine, which might explain my resonance with what she did and my interest in replicating it. She used simple, tender words to describe her happy life. And she encouraged the reader to honor her death by performing "an act of unexpected kindness."
    Lovely request, don't you think? I did exactly what she asked that very day. And the next day, too.
    I'm not the first person to think about writing an obituary in advance of death. I told my husband there's even a template to help us get us started, at www.obituaryguide.com.
    I remind him we feel good about the other things we have done related to end-of-life planning, largely catalyzed by the advocacy work of a local organization called Considering Options, Honoring Options (www.cohoroguevalley.org).
    COHO staff and volunteers have a well ordered understanding of end-of-life preparation and can assist in preparing an Advance Directive and a POLST (Physician's Order for Life Sustaining Treatment) — the latter is only really necessary if your doctor suggests it. I think it's COHO that opened my eyes to the critical importance of having open-hearted and thoughtful conversations about death and dying.
    My husband is warming to the obituary-preparation idea, I think. He suggests we continue this discussion later. OK. I'm in no rush. It's the kind of writing one gives a lot of thought to. I want it to be unforgettable.
    Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.
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