Writing Your Own Obituary

by Jan Philips
Florida Ave. (DC) MM, sojourning at Ridgewood Meeting
Charlene Ray
Morningside Meeting


How do you answer a question like “I’m looking for stories from NYYM’s July interest groups and Sessions. Would you be willing to write a short article about them for Spark?"—especially when it comes from Sarah Way? Especially when the interest group you offered was called “WRITING MY OBITUARY; SELF-PENNED NOTES FOR A (NEARLY READY TO GO) MEMORIAL MINUTES… FOR THE AMBITIOUS FRIEND?”


First we might say that it was a delicious way to spread a message of taking responsibility for ones own aging. And even more fun when you have a collaborator—we have to say that we, Jan Philips and Charlene Ray, had a ball working on this together, an opportunity to get to know each other better in a time of isolation. We were well prepared by Fred Dettmer and give full credit to Melanie-Claire Mallison for our virtual exploration and journey.


George Fox’s early charge to us is: “let your lives speak.”


Obituaries and memorial minutes are an important kind of storytelling, a way of tapping into our roots, roots we share as Quakers and roots that tie us to a wider world. Understanding the journey of a Friend is often a reflection of the life and times of a broader society. The stories we share of the life we live are the vibrant and vital strands of a treasured quilt. The fabrics we weave tells the trials and challenges that when made available can enlighten, empower, soothe, comfort, and connect the generations.


The Living Spirit within Friends is the story that doesn’t die when the body stops. We moved beyond: name, birthplace, occupation and listing of service committees, to asking Friends: “describe the family you created, who is your tribe? Who are the people who vanished during your life and how did that influence you? Who are the people who supported you by making you feel safe, loved, cherished? How have you been tested by Friend’s testimonies?”


We were completely astonished (and delighted!) that some 50 folks signed up, signaling a surprising degree of interest, and raising the question ‘Why?” and “what next?”


We planned for our Interest Group to be hands-on, with participants preparing their own obituaries while laying down an outline for their eventual memorial minute. We might have created more space for interaction—but we purposely did not. A virtual follow-up is planned for Thursday, September 30, 2021, 7:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.


In the words of Bob Hope, ‘thanks for the memories.’