A couple of recent obituaries have received widespread notice online and in the media. One, for an actor, was so low-key it was almost unrecognizable; the other was so quirky its subject was unmistakable.
What they shared in common was they were both first-person obits.
That’s not so unusual these days as people are taking charge of their end-of-life activities and their deaths just as they oversaw their lives. That includes those who want their obituaries to be life-and-letter perfect, making sure they are remembered and celebrated just as they like. Rather than leave that final resume to friends and family to craft, increasingly people are taking a more do-it-yourself approach to make sure it’s right.
Whether inspired or propelled by social media, these new “selfie” obituaries – or auto-bituaries – are finding their way onto the Internet where they are widely shared, admired or wondered at. Perhaps email, Facebook and Twitter have made non-writers more comfortable with expressing themselves to the extent that tackling their own life stories is not as daunting as it once might have been.
When Walter Bruhl, 80, died in March, his wife and children remembered that he had written an obituary on his computer. “My reaction,” his wife Helene says, “was we can’t use this!” But her sons prevailed. “They said, ‘Mom, this is Daddy. This is what Daddy wanted.’”
Walter George Bruhl Jr. of Newark and Dewey Beach is a dead person; he is no more; he is bereft of life; he is deceased; he has rung down the curtain and gone to join the choir invisible; he has expired and gone to meet his maker.
He drifted off this mortal coil Sunday, March 9, 2014, in Punta Gorda, Fla. His spirit was released from his worn-out shell of a body and is now exploring the universe… Walt was preceded in death by his tonsils and adenoids in 1935; a spinal disc in 1974; a large piece of his thyroid gland in 1988; and his prostate on March 27, 2000.
The obituary that ran in The News Journal in Newark, Del. Paper went on to detail Bruhl’s life just as he wanted including his military service and his 30-plus year career with the DuPont Co. But it was touches like this – “He was surrounded by his loving wife of 57 years, Helene Sellers Bruhl, who will now be able to purchase the mink coat which he had always refused her because he believed only minks should wear mink.” –caused the obit to go viral.
“Yes,” Helene Bruhl says, “he loved to write and had a very keen sense of humor as you can tell.”
That was not lost on his grandson Sam, 20, who posted the obituary on his Facebook page with this comment: “Typical of my PopPop, he cut out the middleman and wrote his own damn obituary. He’s the only man I’ve ever known to be able to add his own humor like this. So glad I got to read one more thing from my favorite writer.”
Read the whole obituary here: http://capegazette.villagesoup.com/p/walter-george-bruhl-jr-dupont-...
In contrast, when actor James Rebhorn died, he conspicuously underplayed his life and achievements – most recently playing Clair Danes’ father on Homeland. While papers from New York to Los Angeles detailed the more than 100 stage, screen and television credits of the journeyman actor, Rebhorn’s own self-assessment appeared in the bulletin of his St. Paul Lutheran Church in Jersey City. Rebhorn, who was 65 when he died of melanoma, a disease that was diagnosed in 1992, according to The Associated Press.
The church bulletin introduced Rebhorn’s obit, saying, “…he will be remembered not so much for his many screen and stage accomplishments as for his firm faith, his strong leadership, his care for others, and his unfailing good humor.”
A few excerpts from Rebhorn’s own obit, titled His Life, According to Jim are particularly touching about his family:
He is survived by his sister, Janice Barbara Galbraith, of Myrtle Beach, S.C. She was his friend, his confidant, and, more often than either of them would like to admit, his bridge over troubled waters.
He is also survived by his wife, Rebecca Fulton Linn and his two daughters, Emma Rebecca Rebhorn and Hannah Linn Rebhorn. They anchored his life and gave him the freedom to live it. Without them, always at the center of his being, his life would have been little more than a vapor. Rebecca loved him with all his flaws, and in her the concept of ceaseless love could find no better example.
His children made him immensely proud. Their dedication to improving our species and making the world a better place gave him hope for the future. They deal with grief differently, and they should each manage it as they see fit. He hopes, however, that they will grieve his passing only as long as necessary. They have much good work to do, and they should get busy doing it. Time is flying by.
To read the full obituary: http://stpauljerseycity.org/stpaul/2014/03/24/in-memory-of-jim-rebh...
Last year, Jane Catherine Lotter died of metastatic cancer in Seattle where her first person obituary said, “One of the few advantages of dying from Grade 3, Stage IIIC endometrial cancer, recurrent and metastasized to the liver and abdomen,” she wrote, “is that you have time to write your own obituary. (The other advantages are no longer bothering with sunscreen and no longer worrying about your cholesterol.)”
Val Paterson, in Salt Lake City, wrote his obituary for The Salt Lake Tribune in 2012:
“My regret is that I felt invincible when young and smoked cigarettes when I knew they were bad for me. Now, to make it worse, I have robbed my beloved Mary Jane of a decade or more of the two of us growing old together and laughing at all the thousands of simple things that we have come to enjoy…My pain is enormous, but it pales in comparison to watching my wife feel my pain as she lovingly cares for and comforts me.”
Victoria Lee Pope also died from lung cancer at 54 and included a warning in her obituary that ran in the Northwest Florida Daily News:
“Everyone always says that I do things ‘my way,’ so I’ve written my own obituary in hopes of reaching at least one person to say that cigarettes are not worth the pain you put your family through or the horrendous pain you put your body through. …Instead of my last days being peaceful they are spent gasping for breath, like a fish out of water. There is nothing brave or courageous about my death. It’s scary and a waste. Ask yourself when you light that next cigarette, is it worth it?
You can read her full obit and other first person goodbyes that were posted on legacy.com at: http://blog.legacy.com/2011/10/03/writing-your-own-obituary/
In July, Laura Jean Bassett Toomey Whiting, 60, died after writing her obituary: “Although my cancer is incompatible with life, I am not prepared or ready to go.” Nevertheless, she later says, “I am a 43-year survivor of cancer, not a victim…my long survival is miraculous. Cancer … gives us a chance to think about what is important, the way we want to live, and the message we want to give. It allows you to say I love you to a wider circle of friends and to say I love you more often to family.”
More in The Grafton News: http://www.thegraftonnews.com/laura-jean-bassett-toomey-whiting/