Thursday, March 29, 2007
Writing an obituary
Last night I got a call from my neighbor, Jack. He wanted me to come over with a pad of paper and a pen, telling me he had a task for me.

When I arrived, he teared up and asked me if I'd write Hetty's obituary. No, Hetty has not yet died, she was napping when I arrived, but the hospice social worker had given Jack a pamphlet Tuesday that listed the symptoms of an actively dying person. Jack read it carefully, highlighting those symptoms that Hetty is experiencing (not interested in eating solids, only interested in drinking liquids, tired all the time, etc.). I think it was then that he finally understood and accepted that Hetty isn't going to get better and that she won't be here with us much longer. I think this is what prompted him to call me.

You may wonder why he's asking me, his neighbor, to write his wife's obituary, rather than his son or daughter? Truthfully, I wondered the same thing. Jack simply said that he didn't want to burden his children with this task but, for his own peace of mind, needed it taken care of in advance. He did ask me to contact his daughter and let her have final approval on what was written for Hetty's obituary.

So, I sat down at their kitchen table with Jack and dictated facts from him about Hetty, when she was born, when they were married, her career, her retirement, surviving family members, and things she'll be remembered most for.

Last night I typed up an obituary for my neighbor, Hetty, who hasn't died quite yet. What a surreal experience.

Now I have to call Hetty's daughter and somehow delicately broach the subject, asking her to read her mother's obituary and approve it ahead of time. How does one do this exactly?

**Edited to add**

Thank you all so much for your supportive comments and prayers! I do appreciate it.

I spoke with Hetty and Jack's daughter over the phone today. I stumbled over my words in the beginning, not sure how to explain the purpose of my call without causing her pain. I decided the direct approach was best.

She took it well and we talked for over 30 minutes. She cried a bit and opened up and shared some of the family dynamics. It was actually nice learning more about her parents through her experiences.

So, the conversation went well. I emailed her the obituary and she's going to review it, possibly make suggestions, and send it back.

Whew! I'm glad that task has been completed!

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6:28 AM

At 5:06 AM, Blogger ChupieandJ'smama said...

Oh my, I don't envy you on this task. It had to be so hard to write on obit for someone who hasn't passed on yet. Hugs to you.

At 6:32 AM, Blogger Tracey said...

What a kind kind thing for you to do for this family. I guess the only way to broach it is with kindness and honesty. Let her know that this will be hard to hear, and you'll understand if she needs to call you on her own timeframe, but that her father really wants this done well. Is there anything Hetty would want said at her own funeral? Is that too touchy a subject to bring up? I would think that I would have a few memories I would want mentioned, especially as a mother.

Best wishes to you and their whole family. I hope that Hetty passes with peace and no pain...

At 7:07 AM, Blogger Jill said...

You are a great neighbor and a wonderful person for helping him with this difficult task. I have written two obituaries -- for two of my grandparents -- and it's the worst writing task I've ever taken on. Bless you.

At 7:45 AM, Anonymous chelle said...

What an amazing honour yet wow how hard .... Sending some positive vibes your way!

At 8:13 AM, Blogger Joyful Days said...

What a blessing you are to this couple. What a difficult task to do this. Praying for you in this. Continuing to pray for Hetty & her family.


At 9:33 AM, Blogger Becca said...

He must think the world of you to give you such an honor. You must be a cherished friend to Hetty. Just go with your heart. You will do well.

At 2:31 PM, Blogger Tricia said...

As hard as this is to do, you are doing such a kind thing for Hetty and her family. Praying for you and for the family.

At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Rae said...

Wow, this must be very difficult. You're a wonderful neighbor & person to do this. I wish I could fill you in on a way to approach their daughter, but I wouldn't have a clue myself. Best wishes to you and to their family.

At 6:13 PM, Blogger palmtreefanatic said...

oh wow! I cannot imagine having to do such a difficult task! I am sure he is thinking of you as family as well here...Bless their hearts! God Will give you the strength you need to do this!
What a hard time for all and I can't imagine asking her daughter this!
I pray for peace for all of you during this difficult time!

Also thanks for stopping by!

At 7:23 PM, Blogger annb said...

My mother passed away February 2 this year after suffering from Dementia for the nine months prior to her passing. My Mother lived with me, I was her primary care giver along with Hospice. My mother and I talked often about her funeral and I actually wrote her obituary before she died and had all of my siblings read it and approve it. It was such a relief that once my Mom passed, we didn't have to take care of those details because it was all done. All we had to do was spend time together, remembering her and loving each other. I think you've done an amazing thing and Hetty's daughter will probably be thankful for what you've done and be happy that she doesn't have to deal with it. To me, that is one of the most caring things you can do for someone you love.

At 8:22 PM, Blogger Judith said...

God bless you! It may be that the husband and the daughter just aren't up to writing it yet, and aren't sure they'll deal with it well later.

I would get in touch with the daughter, and let her know her father requested you do this, and see how she reacts. She may be as relieved as he is, that someone else will. Either way, you'll know how she feels, and if there's no problem, write it the best you can, and make them some copies, and give it back to him. Getting as much done in advance is his way of dealing with her death. Think of what you're doing as your last gift to them.

At 9:42 PM, Blogger crissybug said...

What a great compliment and honor that they would choose you to write this. It sounds like all worked out well.

What a wonderful thing to be able to honor her, and the life that she has led.

At 8:13 AM, Blogger Kathleen Marie said...

What a very kind thing for you to do! I worked Hospice for four years and sometimes this is done before, sometimes after and it is difficult. It is really nice to do when the person is still alive so facts are straight, spellings are correct, etc...

You are such a sweetheart to help out!

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Laura said...

What a task. For sure you are a wonderful neighbour and those people really admire you. Have a great day!

At 5:31 PM, Blogger Barb said...

What an honor that he asked you to do this. I can see where he's very wise to do it now. After she passes away, it will be one less thing for them to deal with and honestly, I think it would be very hard for one of her children to have to do it. I'm glad his daughter was so receptive.


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