How to Write Your Own Obituary

As a proponent of responsible DIY medicine, I love the idea put forth by Alex Beam in a column he wrote exploring the idea of writing your own obituary.

[The cynics chime in: “That’s where you’ll wind up if you try to “do” medicine yourself.”]

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who died in February, had his obituary in the NY Times initially inked in 1996, more than a decade before he actually died.** Since he was a figure of historic importance, we can’t blame the paper for being well-prepared.

Folks interested in the do-it-yourself approach won’t likely need to go to such lengths to create their own obituaries. Columnist Beam gives a couple of great examples of folks that have made good on such efforts:

First, there are the Fellows of Cambridge University, rather fusty types who have apparently engaged in the practice for some time. Beam alludes to a description stating that many of those gents “are in a state that might be mistaken for death.” The act of composing their own obituaries “saves other people the bother of having to make up nice things about them.”

Another example is Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau. Though still working his craft, he is well prepared:

Feb 3, 2035 — former New York Knicks point guard Garry Trudeau died peacefully in his home today following a particularly fine meal and a visit from his great-grandchildren. Mr. Trudeau, who enjoyed an early modest success as a cartoonist, is best remembered for his abrupt career change when he appeared unannounced at a Knicks tryout camp.

The mixture of self-deprecation and whimsy is delightful. I hope DIY obits catch on.


**This 2009 article from Slate gives a great window into how news agencies handle “advancers,” i.e. folks for whom obituaries are written in advance. Turns out old Dr. Koop was at the extraordinarily long end of the spectrum.

John H. Schumann, MD is a general internist and medical educator at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine in Tulsa, OK . He is also author of the blog, GlassHospital (@GlassHospital), where this post originally appeared.

9 replies »

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  4. I’d be okay with writing my own. Not sure there’s any point though seeing as I’ll never see it published!

  5. Actually I tell patients to plan their own funeral. Pick out the coffin and get it paid for. Pick out the plot. Or pick the urn. Takes away the unknown of dying. You know where you will be.

  6. Excellent idea- forces us to confront death which is THE ONLY PATH to the full life

    Dr. Rick Lippin

  7. Seriously? Writing your very own obituary. Not that excited to do that. But good thought though. I guess,

    A good daughter, sister and citizen.

    lol! But not that excited in making my own.

  8. YES! those are great ideas.

    And the whole reflective aspect of not being proud/glad/easy to do it suggesting taking a different life course is very compelling.

  9. man, I’ll tell you this is a great idea. I am going to have to try my hand at this.

    thought number one – if this exercise causes you extreme psychological pain you may need to do some thinking about what you’re doing in life ..

    nice perspective builder

    From a slightly different, more management-coach focused point of view – try writing an obit for your company …

    Or your widget, if you’re an entrepreneur