NEW YEAR’S TIP: WRITE YOUR OWN OBITUARY

Recently I read a book called “God of Surprises” (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, $22.99), in which author Gerard W. Hughes suggests, as a spiritual exercise, writing your own obituary.

In a 2022 column, Father Ron Rolheiser makes a similar suggestion, pointing out: “There comes a time in life when it’s time to stop writing your résumé and begin to write your obituary.”

I’m always at my best in the early morning after a lengthy time alone with Jesus and two cups of strong coffee, which, happily, was the state in which I came upon the passage in “God of Surprises.”

So I seized my pen and notebook and with zero forethought wrote, “She lived life to the fullest, every moment! She struggled, sought, suffered, pondered, stretched herself. She asked Christ to restore her sight. She made a beautiful home, wherever she was. She loved flowers, trees, birds, the sky, the sea. She loved walking, reading, playing the piano, and she ordered her life so as to allow maximum time to enjoy and praise those things. She was lively. She had a sense of humor and a spirit of fun. She had many many character defects—harness of heart, impatience, quickness to judge—but she worked on them and asked constantly for them to be removed. She”…

Just then, someone called who needed my help and I broke off.

So far, I haven’t gone back to complete my obituary. (Fr. Rolheiser suggests that we review and re-write it each year).

But afterward I was struck that what came out so spontaneously wasn’t, “She spent twenty years of her life on a bar stool and committed many egregious sins during and after that time,” nor “She was mean to her mother while in adolescence and has bitterly regretted the meanness ever since,” nor “Her severe narcissistic wound led her to take everything personally, hog the conversation, and demand love and attention far beyond her share.”

Nor on the other hand did I write, “She was valedictorian of her eighth-grade class, seventh in her class of over 300 her first year of law school, and has won several awards for her writing.”

I didn’t even put down, “She quit her high-paying job as a lawyer to pursue her vocation of writing,” or “She’s been sober 36 years,” or “She converted to Catholicism in 1996 and it has been the crown and glory of her life.”

I wrote what fills me with daily joy. I wrote the things for which I’m grateful. “Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house and the place where Thy glory dwelleth” (Psalm 28:6).

I didn’t even have time to get to my siblings, my friends, my companions in recovery, my fellow members of the Mystical Body, the angels, martyrs, saints, and unsung heroes who shore me up, light the way, and demonstrate every minute of my life that, as Catherine of Siena said, “All the way to heaven is heaven.”

Speaking of heaven, the Advent and Christmas seasons are simultaneously exhausting and strangely exhilarating. All kinds of busting activity lead up to the birth of a baby—and then we’re invited to turn inward, taking stock of the previous twelve months and contemplating the twelve months ahead.

A wonderful passage in The Way of the Disciple is a short book by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (now known as Father Simeon, a Trappist monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts) captures the paradox:

“True, Jesus ‘gives us rest.’ But we must be clear that such ‘rest’ is totally different from ‘resting up’ in order to get back to the daily toils of life, different, too, from recreation or distraction or vacationing, all of which are ordered to getting back to the ‘serious’ part of life. It seems to me that this ‘rest for our souls’ is intended by Jesus to be a real and genuine state of life, the natural condition in which a child of God habitually exists, and not just a passing phase of recovery. It is a deep condition of soul that is quite compatible with all the ordinary, exterior activities and efforts of human life. The one who truly becomes God’s child, like Jesus, enjoys such rest as the very element of existence in which he swims.”

Left to my own devices, I tend to veer between frenetic activity and physical-emotional collapse.

Still, that I was able to regard the sweep of my life and write so freely that recent morning is perhaps a sign of having been granted a certain “rest for my soul.” Beneath the surface anxiety, could it be that all those years of struggling, stretching, and praying had resulted in a strange kind of underlying peace as a state of life?

I hardly dare voice such a thought, as we all know what happens next: an utterly trifling occurrence—a banking snafu, a tire with low air—will throw me completely off course.

Still, I say: Enjoy those moments of peace when they come!

So as we enter 2024, let’s try writing our own obituary. Then let’s keep on living, as fully and as long as we possibly can.


And this week’s video: On Fiducia Supplicans, and the Perils of X/Twitter:

14 Replies to “NEW YEAR’S TIP: WRITE YOUR OWN OBITUARY”

  1. Your self-obit was so good that I started to think I can’t wait for you to die so I can read the finished version, but thought better of it. May you have many more years of grace, growth and glee to glorify the One who made thee.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha ha don’t worry, Michael, if my mental health doesn’t improve The Great Event will occur sooner rather than later…meanwhile, still working on those character defects!! Happy happy New Year–

  2. hi heather1
    i am so so excited about what you are writing. i like your ” voice” and it helps me with my ” voice”. you give me hope that because it works for you it will work for me too. keep going on this path and best wishes!
    tina

  3. I copied the Fr. Simeon quote as a guide to the new year. Will I be able to sustain swimming in that element? We’ll see. Prayer will certainly help. As to the writing of obituaries, I would love to see a completely honest one, with all the faults listed, too.

  4. Now, that’s an obituary! I really liked that psalm verse so I looked it up – it’s actually 26:8. 😜 Thanks for sharing your gifts with us this year, Heather and I’m praying a blessing over your 2024. Tim O’Regan

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Whoops, oh thanks for the correct cite, Tim, and for the support, and Happy New Year!

  5. Alicia (academic librarian in Tampa, FL) says: Reply

    As always, Heather, I have learned some interesting facts from your writing as well as been induced to reflect on spiritual matters. In the Angelus piece, you quote Fr. Simeon Leiva-Merikakis, whose first name before entering the Trappists (at age 57!) was Erasmo. Those first and last names rang a bell and I wondered if he might be Cuban. I was born in Cuba the year Fidel Castro took over; my family took me out of there in 1960 when I was 6 months old. Turns out Fr. Simeon was born in Cuba in 1946 and his family too left around that time. Also—coincidental to your mentions of him in your article—Fr. Simeon’s birthday was yesterday, 12/28. Also, in addition to all your inspiring thoughts shared, I have learned a verse from the Psalms that will be added to my favorites. Thank you, Heather. I am so glad I discovered you in 2023. Happy New Year.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh that’s interesting, Alicia–I don’t know much about him except that I think he was married possibly before he became a monk…anyway, his work goes deep and his reflections have helped me…Happy New Year to you!

  6. Anonymous says: Reply

    What a beautiful and thoughtful reflection, Heather. I love the spirit of what you included and omitted… what is relevant in the here and now. Your travels this year have been a joy to co-experiences via your dispatches. I hope that in Tucson you’re enjoying the sunshine and that your painting by our dear Dory continues to resplend in your home. I am curating a career retrospective of her work this coming May at Augen Gallery in Portland, which will be an opportunity to show all periods of her 30-year career and all media including painting, prints, drawings, and sculpture. I continue to miss her terribly, even as my own life continues. Much love to you across the miles. I enjoy your blog posts very much and appreciate your candidly introspective recountings of your geographic and psychological/spiritual journeys. –Richard

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Happy New Year, Richard…glad you’ve enjoyed my little dispatches and that’s wonderful you’ve curated a retrospective of Dory’s work for this coming May in Portland…I already owned three of her paintings, which I bought way back when we were both at Dorland, and they, and now the new one, absolutely accompany me throughout my days….I have many times brought one of her paintings with me on extended road trips, artist’s residencies, etc–just to have it nearby…beauty, complexity, saturated oranges, golds, blues…so her work has been and continues to be a consolation…wishing you all the very best for 2024 and beyond…

  7. Well ok then. I’ll try. I’ve tried before but get embarrassed. But who better to say what I want to say? Than me? Oh by the way, can I copy? At least your outline! I give you a honorable mention. 😉
    Your words give me much encouragement. Thank you.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha oh sure, Gloria, feel free to use the “outline!” It’s kind of interesting to just let go and see where our pen leads us…

  8. Michael Demers says: Reply

    I like the idea of writing my own obituary but I’d hate for anyone to read it. I also enjoyed your video and I appreciate your comments on FS.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thanks, Michael–at the end of the day we just keep our heads down and keep trudging, giving thanks all the while..

I WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS!

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