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3 Lessons I Learned from Writing My Grandmother’s Obituary

And 3 steps you can take to learn these lessons early.

My kids and I with my Grandmother in her first selfie (2015)

Has the circle of life ever taken you on a roller coaster ride? As I write this, my grandmother is in her final stage of life in hospice care and my daughter is in her last month of elementary school. One moment I am fine, and the next I’m a hot crying mess as memories of good times now past descend on me. Fundamentally, I accept life and death and the changes happening so fast as my kids grow up. But somehow as I sit between the opposite ends of life—my beloved grandmother’s impending death and my daughter’s new chapter of life—the meaning of life and my own role in the grand scheme of things invites deeper reflection. Am I living to my full potential of joy? Spreading enough love? Learning and growing daily? Connecting with the people who are important in my life?

When hospice told me to get my grandmother’s affairs in order and I secured a company for cremation, they asked if I would like them to write her obituary. I considered their offer but decided to take on the task myself. I had been the primary person managing my grandmother’s care and household for the last three years—making multiple trips from my home in Virginia to hers in Florida as her needs changed—and this task, I knew, would be a sacred one. Here are the lessons I learned from writing my grandmother’s obituary: 

1.) Ask your loved ones about their lives, even the small details. As I used the hospice form to fill out my grandmother’s life details, I was disappointed in myself that the names of all her siblings did not come easily to me; I had to research and even look up one of her sibling’s obituaries. Years ago, I had interviewed my grandmother and written a small book to celebrate her life, but in going back to it now, the content feels superficial and high-level; in the face of death, our views change. If I could do it all over, I’d spend more time with my grandmother and maybe even create a video featuring her life.

2.) Make time to spend with your loved ones. Life is fragile. Work can wait. What is the worst case if you miss a deadline? Have you experienced a sudden death that made you wish you had more time? My grandmother has made it to age 91, but in 2016 I lost my childhood best friend. Life is short; make the time!

3.) Write down what you want your legacy to be. While you’re at it, ask your aging family members how they would want to be remembered. Include the details—they are the personal touch that celebrates the gift of each person’s unique personality.

  • For my best friend, I wrote, “Angie was a creative, fun, loving, and adventurous spirit. A poet and prolific singer/songwriter, she created and performed countless songs with the musical talent of her husband. Most recently, Angie wrote the song ‘40 West’ for her cousin’s first Nashville recording.”
  • For my grandmother, I said, “Margaret was by nature a creative person, bringing her unique touch to everything from costume- and jewelry-making to her gourmet meals. Margaret’s life was rich with loving family and very special friends, who were the source of much joy for her.”

As my tears flow, so too do the beautiful memories of those I have loved dearly over the years. I hold on to the positive and uplifting memories, and I try to uphold each of their legacies, from being playful daily as my best friend would want to spread love and kindness as my great-grandmother Pauline taught me. These days I am cooking the food that my grandmother taught me to make and sending pictures to her aids, so they can show her my kids and I cooking together. They say it always makes her smile. I also cook when I visit my grandmother—that is the bond we share, the legacy she has passed to me. It’s something I can do now to celebrate her life, while also spending time with my own kids.

​What one step can you take to spend more time being with and getting to know your loved ones, young and old alike? 

To hear more from Kerry, check out her wellness website, www.zendoway.com, or follow her on instagram/twitter @kerrywekelo.

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