“Those flowers make me sick,” my six-year-old daughter complained. I looked at the vase of lilies and greenery, a spray left over from my grandmother’s funeral the day before. It had sat beside her casket as we gazed at her still body; now it sat on our dining room table. Ellie coughed dramatically. “They make me cough.” I relented and moved the vase to the bookcase in our living room.
Just a few hours later, I read my grandmother’s obituary in the newspaper. It was all the typical obituary information: name, occupation, survivors, funeral arrangements. Rather blah—it didn’t capture her life. How she loved cardinals, cheered for the Atlanta Braves, made a birthday cake for Jesus each Christmas. How she would slip up and call me by my aunt’s name. How she prayed for me to find a godly husband. After our first child was born, she told us, “Thank you for producing Ellie,” as if we were a manufacturing plant that turned out particularly valuable cars and we’d parked one in her driveway with a big gift bow on top. (We still laugh about it.)
Obituaries are like that. They don’t tell readers much about the person, either good or bad or inconsequential. Some survivors try to capture their loved one’s life in words, but all too often, these summaries are clichés or catalogues of the person’s virtues. After all, how would people react to an obituary that included things like this (and none of these apply to my grandmother):
He couldn’t spell “misspelled.” Her handwriting was like chicken scratch. He sang like a sick pig. She couldn’t boil water.
He was prejudiced. She was so cranky that she scowled at the sky on a sunny day. No one liked him. She grumbled every day of her life. He won’t be missed by anyone. In fact, everyone is relieved she’s dead.
I don’t want to be remembered this way.
How I’m remembered after I die is a result of how I lived. Not an original thought, but one to ponder and one that I lose sight of in the middle of my muddled mess of a life. In the past few days, I’ve thought about how I want to live and how I want people to remember me.
So I’m giving my future obituary writer a head start:
“She loved her family, even if she was a bit—okay, a lot—cranky with them. She tried really, really hard to not be cranky, and occasionally succeeded in being called a sweet darling (usually by her friend Bootsie, who calls lots of people sweet darling).
“She loved to write and point people to God through well-written, entertaining and realistic fiction. She couldn’t sing well—really, she sounded like a dog with a scratchy bark—but she loved to lip-sync her favorite songs on the radio and actually did sing in church. She loved to sing “The Lord will Provide,” “In Christ Alone,” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and teared up when she heard them.
“She had some issues (my obit writer can be specific here) but she relied on God to provide what she needed, when she needed it, and relied on his faithfulness to sustain her hope. She fought passionately for justice on behalf of those without a voice, thought deeply about things of eternal significance, clung to hope, and showed Jesus to other people.
“She worked to bring a tiny bit of heaven down to earth. She didn’t waste her life.
“She died well because she lived well.”
That’s how I want others to remember me.