Writing your own obituary is a classic coaching model to help you figure our your life goals, and work backwards to plan a life that has individualized meaning. The idea is that you write about yourself – how you hope to be remembered, by whom, for what. This helps you see what is most important to you. Then you can identify if you have those elements in your life. If you don’t, you still have time to make changes – after all, you are still alive!
**There’s a really great film called The Last Word which encompasses this idea. It’s on netflix right now, so if you fancy an uplifting and inspirational movie, look for it!**
However, back to obituaries. My counselor suggested it, and I took it a step further.
I thought to myself “what if this exercise could also be a useful tool for closure? For closing one chapter of yourself, and beginning something new?”
As you’ll have seen from my recent blog posts, I’ve been going through some pretty major life changes lately. There is a lot of time dedicated to doing work – for myself, on myself. Re-examining my goals, my relationships, my direction and processing the many fears and mixed emotions around this.
As a result of this work, I decided to change my name. Today, I’ve decided to go a step further, and write an obituary to myself, of myself. I’d like to think of it as a legacy letter, where I can acknowledge what I’ve been through, and how I’ve changed. Going through this process will hopefully be cathartic and meaningful. I plan to keep writing legacy letters at every stage in my life where I feel a momentous shift – from getting married, to becoming a mom, to anything else that comes my way. Legacy letters will help me see where I began, and whether where I’m going is my destined destination.
In fact, parts of my old self are gone. The person I once was, is gone. I am new, I am different, I am the sum of my past experiences. I don’t really believe that aspects of yourself can ever die, they simply phase out or morph into something new. Everyone carries around baggage. Think of it like a chain pulling a suitcase. Some people’s suitcases are heavier than others. The goal is not to cut the unbreakable chain, but to learn to acknowledge what’s in your suitcase and to develop the strength and resilience to be able to carry it, to run with it – to keep living your life as you deserve.
How to Write your own Obituary (Legacy Letter)
- Find a quiet time and place to sit down with some paper and a pen (or if tech-savvy, your device of choice)
- Write down your name. Look at it and think about what comes to mind. What do you visualise, what images do you see? Write these down.
- Think about the most significant events in your life (positive and negative). Where were you? What where they? What did you feel? What did you accomplish? Who was you with? Try to acknowledge the key moments or experiences that shaped you.
- Now think about how you’ve changed as a result. How are you different, how are you the same? What aspects of yourself do you want to let go? Finding a way to accepting change is the next step, but for now the process is to simply identify and understand the change.
- If you like, think about questions to help guide you. Here are some good questions for personal legacy letters.
- Reflect on your notes, and start writing. I will not prescribe details, as everyone should have their own voice. There is no right way, or wrong way. For me, I wanted to acknowledge both the things I loved about myself, but the lessons I learned. I was driven by certain incentives, which led to actions in my life. And I learned from there. I’m now different. My story reflects this. Yours can be however you’d like, as long as you’d like.
The process in itself of putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), is really transformative. Reading about your motivations and life choices helps you reflect on HOW AND WHY. Always think about what you learned, and how you’ve applied this to today. What is your inner self telling you? If you want to share yours (anonymously ok too), comment below. I’m sharing mine.
Laura-Ashley (January 2017)
Laura-Ashley is gone. Nicknamed LA, she was a bright light who will be remembered for her undeterred positivism, her commitment to people and her over-joyous energy. She spent her whole life trying to be better.
LA built an impressive resume – she completed her first degree in 7 years, overcoming so many odds to finish third in her program. Incredibly, she did this while working three jobs, volunteering to help student refugees and networking and planning non-stop for ‘the future’. Traveling and connecting to other cultures was so important to LA, who dedicated herself to helping others.
LA was modest about her strong connections with individuals, she instead focused on the next step, working harder, following advice from others about her career. There would always be a ‘next step’, or a ‘next best thing’.
This came at a cost to her health, her relationships and her financial situation. By focussing less on the present and more on the future, LA began to run on adrenaline, and this became the new normal. She became obsessed with planning, very uncomfortable living in the moment, unhappy to relax and let go.
The more praise she got, the harder she worked to connect with more people, to affect more change. While seen as an extravert, she was in fact, an introvert. Over time, getting bigger and better jobs meant she could pay off financial debts, and travel to remote places on the earth, to exotic locations.
LA connected with more and more people on social media, as if to show them how great her life was. In fact, her inner self was growing tired, poorly, and she put others ahead of her own well-being.
Sadly, in August 2016, on her 33rd birthday, LA was diagnosed with adrenal exhaustion. Her body shut down. She had to take sick leave. As work faded, accomplishments faded, a busy life faded, LA was forced to slow down and her inner self escaped.
After so long in captivity, this inner self leapt into the world, screaming into the hills “I’m here!” LA came to see that she was deeply disconnected from her ideal world. She was lacking stability, and felt there was no ‘home’. Someone who once relished in a life that others would envy, found herself envying the mundane – home, family, friends.
It didn’t matter what degrees she had, or what profession. It didn’t matter where she went on holiday, or how many children she was ‘helping’ through development work. What mattered was that she was unhappy and exhausted.
In January 2017, LA ceased to exist. She returned to Canada, and was laid to rest. She may be remembered for many accomplishments, but some were in vain.
LA is survived by her inner self, Ella. This inner self remains caring, positive and hard-working. Ella puts herself first and is respected by others for her commitment to work-life balance, and being clear about setting expectations.
Ella is efficient and loves engaging with other cultures, working in settings that allow her to pass along previous experiences to inspire and educate new generations. Ella can be found spending evenings and weekends doing activities which recharge her, rather than drain her. You likely won’t see her out on the town, she’ll be home cooking, singing and spending time with loved ones.
Most importantly, Ella knows that “thank you, but no” is a completely acceptable response to draining invitations, without further explanation needed. Ella keeps LA in her heart, always, and will carry LA’s legacy into the next chapter.
We love you LA.