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Yale 62

“Write Your Own Obituary”
A Seminar Led by Diane Ronayne

Summary by Communication Team member Tim Hall

On the evening of February 16, a group of Yale ’62s sat down with Diane Ronayne, wife of classmate and Communication Team member Gary Richardson, to learn in an online seminar format the fine points of how to write our own obituaries. We’ve made the video of this workshop available for the benefit of everyone in the class, on our front page. It comes highly recommended by the original participants!

and Other Useful Things

Age Gracefully America

Useful Tips in Writing Your Obituary by Diane Ronayne

Class Hand-out by Diane Ronayne

A terrific new book by Yale professor Becca Levy: Breaking the Age Code. Available wherever you purchase your books.

Those of us in Yale 1962 are indeed fortunate that Gary happens to be married to Diane, and he first suggested last fall that our class might benefit from her seminar.  I don’t want to pre-empt the video by saying too much about it, but I thought I would share a few high-level take-aways for me.

First, most participants had emotional reactions to the idea of working on our own obituaries. These ranged from curious and open to strongly resistant (even though they had registered for the class). Not only was the prospect of our own death not near the top of our favorite subjects to contemplate, but we had other issues, such as, do we really want to share these personal thoughts with other people, how would our spouses or children react, and how to begin narrowing down what to cover of what has now been a long life?  And several of us were guilty of procrastination, hoping to start before the winter holidays but often not getting around to it until a few days before the workshop.

Another issue was length.  Several of us had already written similar documents, such as autobiographies, memoirs, and journals, and these tended to be quite long.  My autobiography is over 20 pages, for example. It felt quite challenging to boil such an account down to 800 words.

We heard several helpful tips from our classmates.  One, on the length issue, was that it’s better to just start with a clean slate rather than try to adapt some pre-existing document.

And, regarding inspiration and procrastination, some folks did as Diane had recommended and asked some family members, perhaps kids, over the holidays to help by asking them things like, “How do you see me? How would you describe me, or what memories do you think I should be sure to include?”

Another helpful idea was to focus the writing around our core values, what we stand for, rather than what we did.

And one member, around the issue of sharing the obituary with family, said he plans to write a separate letter to each of his kids and/or to other family members or close friends. He said that people who do hospice work recommend this practice.

One suggestion was to think of this document as our remembrances.  And in response Diane pointed out that the whole point of an obituary or any related kind of life-capturing document is story telling. We all have our personal narratives that bring to life the ways our lives unfold.  As she said, quoting psychologist Dan McAdams, “In the end, we all become stories.”

So, those of us who were engaged in this workshop would encourage you to look at the video and consider trying an obituary of your own.  Take some quality time for yourself, as a gift to yourself,  on a quiet day when you aren’t pressed with something you have to do.  Curl up in your favorite spot with a notebook or keyboard, have a cup of tea or coffee, or perhaps a “wee droppie” of something a bit stronger, and let the memories flow!

We welcome your comments below.