Tell your story, then live it.

One of my favourite things to do on holiday is visit bookshops. I almost always buy a new book while away and have purchased countless Moleskins (unlined – all the better to doodle in!) before boarding a plane.

Last Christmas, while on holiday in Banff, I bought myself two game-changers. One was Amy Poehler’s ‘Yes, Please’ and the other was a squat little book called ‘642 Tiny Things to Write About’.

One of the first Tiny Things was to write the opening sentence of my own obituary.

It sounds a little macabre, a little morose, but it was truly one of the most inspiring and instructive things I’ve done.

Being a chronic over-writer, I couldn’t keep the exercise to just one sentence. Instead, I wrote four that summed up what I want to see, and more importantly, what I want others to see, when looking back.

Those four sentences have had a huge impact on my life. They’ve made me reframe what is important, what is worth risking and what is central to my core. They’ve clarified my goals, my dreams and what I hope to see as my legacy. They’ve helped me hone in on what is important for me, but even moreso, for my family.

If we take a moment to imagine ourselves standing at the end of life, looking back at the journey we’ve taken, we get the beautiful benefit of hindsight and the incredible opportunity to act upon it. That never happens.

So often we lament, “Hindsight is 20/20,” and accept, rightly so, that we simply don’t know what we don’t know. And while we still can’t know what the future holds for us, we can imagine – in brilliant detail, no less – what we hope to see as we look back.

Having that benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to act upon it is like rewriting a history that hasn’t happened yet. And it gets to be the history you want.

I’m not talking about manifesting yourself a life of wealth, power and fame. But the things that matter – family, friends, love, compassion – can exist regardless of the circumstances of the life you live. And I’d wager that these feature heavily when looking back at a life fully lived.

Not the car we drove. Or the school we went to. Or the brand of jeans we bought.

Adventure. Willingness to try. Joy. Spirit. Compassion. Heart. Sense of humour. Fair-mindedness. Ambition. Tenacity. Unconditional love. 

Take a moment to ask yourself: what will I see when I look back?

Oh, and for what it’s worth, I hope my obituary will be delivered by my two children and given to a room full of friends and family. I hope the service is followed by one heck of a shindig in my honour, and I hope my remains are buried and turned into something beautiful, like a tree.

“Quick to laugh, creative, compassionate, with a wicked sense of humour, Mum was never without a new plan or adventure on the horizon. She was spontaneous, loyal, introspective and a little moody, and she made one hell of an Old Fashioned. Mum, we will miss you always. Thank you for our roots, but thank you even more for our wings.”

Reading Time:

2 minutes

 

 

 

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26 Comments

  1. Sharo

    Ok, is it morbid that I love this idea? Thank you for sharing this. I just sat and wrote mine as well.

    • Brooke McAlary

      Not morbid at all! I hope it was an illuminating exercise for you too. 🙂

  2. Maggie

    Love your obituary! (never thought I’d write that)

    • Brooke McAlary

      Ha! It’s one of those weird things isn’t it! But I loved it too. 😉

  3. Katie Leipprandt

    Love this perspective. I’ve always wanted to right a family “mission statement” or a personal one, but the thought seemed intimidating to me. This – writing the opening line of my obituary – seems so much more doable and livable. Thanks. Also love the idea of that squat little writing prompt book…might need to go find one!

    • Brooke McAlary

      It’s such an accessible task and not at all intimidating (as long as we don’t mind thinking about the end of our own lives – which I really didn’t mind) and I’d definitely recommend you try it out. Also, the writing prompts book is amazing and they’re releasing a 2015 edition in about a month.

  4. Dan

    Core Values, understanding, and introspection. Thank you for the reminder Brooke!

    • Brooke McAlary

      It’s a pleasure, Dan! Great to see you too. 🙂

  5. Becky

    I love this! In every way! Quick question…did you get an advance copy of 642 tiny things? Amazon says it’s not out yet. Or was it the original book….642 things to write about (not tiny). Thanks!

    • Brooke McAlary

      Becky, I didn’t realise at the time I wrote my post but I actually have the 2014 edition of this book (which I can’t find online anywhere now.) The 2015 edition is due for release in early July, I believe, and is available for pre-order now. I’d definitely recommend it, as the 2014 book was a game changer for me!

  6. Karen

    Several years ago, I was challenged to write my obituary. It was a fantastic exercise!!!! (Though my husband refused to read it because he just couldn’t “go there”! 🙂

    And….I have made it WELL known folks can say some nice things and cry a bit, but then they MUST throw a bring your own dessert party….and ENJOY!!!!!! 🙂

    • Brooke McAlary

      “And….I have made it WELL known folks can say some nice things and cry a bit, but then they MUST throw a bring your own dessert party….and ENJOY!!!!!! :-)”

      ABSOLUTELY!

  7. joanna

    This I so great Brooke. Once again thanks for your insight I will add that by listening to your podcast I can say you are very funny!
    Also as we have just lost my mother in law its great to think of what she would have wanted people to say about her.

  8. hannah

    There’s nothing macabre about living intentionally! What’s really disturbing is how easy it is to live life without really thinking about what matters most. What I love about this exercise is how quickly it strips away all the petty stuff, all the distractions.
    Here’s mine:
    “She listened to God and to the people He placed in her life with her whole self, and obeyed Him with her whole life.”

    • Brooke McAlary

      Yes Hannah, you’re so right! Living unconsciously is disturbingly easy, but this whole exercise has made it obvious to me just what is truly important. Also: I love your words. x

    • Brooke McAlary

      Yay! So happy to hear it Emily. x

  9. Cherie

    Thanks Brooke – loving your work!

  10. Brooke McAlary

    Quite a few people have asked about the book so I thought I’d add the details here. It’s called ‘642 Tiny Things to Write About’ (2014) and it’s created by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.

    It looks like the 2015 Edition will be released shortly, but I couldn’t find last year’s version online. http://www.amazon.com/642-Tiny-Things…/dp/1452142173/

    • Brooke McAlary

      Also: I would highly recommend it!

  11. Margie DePellegrin

    Hi Brooke,
    Just love it! I was a nurse in a past life, so I get this, it’s really a subject people don’t like to talk about. I read a beautiful book called “Tuesday’s with Morrie” where he actually had his wake before he died, and so he was able to hear all those fabulous things people had to say- he really lived his life on purpose!
    Love all your work xxx

  12. Jen

    I am always interested in books that make an impact on people’s lives and why. How did the Amy Poehler book impact you?

    BTW, that would be a great question for your podcast guests and/or a great blog series. hint hint.

    Thanks for all your work. It is really supporting my journey towards a more meaningful life.

  13. Kate

    I used to teach Human Development to undergrads at a large US university and one of the assignments I had them do was to write their obituary. For some it freaked them out but many commented (after they stopped freaking out:) how memorable it was. They shared that this was one of the hardest and yet truly meaningful assignments they had done at uni. I asked them to file it away and re-read 10+ years down the road. I often wonder how many have.

  14. kariane

    How coincidental! Just yesterday I was talking with my grandmother about her legacy, and it inspired me to think about what I want my legacy to be. And then I read this. Apparently this is a topic I’m going to be thinking a lot about this week. Thank you.

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