Writing Your Own Obit
How do you want to be remembered after you’ve passed from this life? About 6 years ago, I attended a workshop offered by The Sitting Room titled “The death-defying art of obituary writing.” This gathering of 15 women proved both entertaining and enlightening, as we each wrote—factual or fanciful—our own obit. The variety of styles and the amount of good humor, plus the deep thinking this exercise and sharing engendered, was a pleasant surprise and a stimulus for a subsequent essay. Excerpted below, my third person account served as a kind of creative visualization too (see my blog entry of 6-14-17). How and where would I like to die, what would I wish to have accomplished?
The Sitting Room is again offering this workshop at its location near Sonoma State University on October 29. I recommend it for writers and dabblers alike.
It was fun for me to organize my obit into sub-topics: Basic Facts, Creative History, Education and Employment, Love and Marriage, Quirks, Services and In Lieu of Flowers. What I noticed as I wrote was a sense of wry humor in everything, including a wish to “have the funeral before I die so I can enjoy it.”
Jennie Marie Orvino was born in the old Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park, Illinois, on July 29, 1946—a Monday her mother told her was “humid and stinking hot.” (Monday’s child is fair of face; it’s Tuesday’s child who’s full of grace.)
She was the first-born of Carmelita Nita Vincenti and Joseph Richard Orvino who married September 19, 1945. Army Captain Orvino, wearing his uniform decorated with a Silver Star and Purple Heart, walked with a cane down the aisle. He had recently returned from his service as a medical officer in the WWII European theater. Jennie regretted she had never interviewed her father about his war experience, especially the incident that earned him his medals.
Orvino’s first name (spelled with the troublesome “ie” ending instead of a “y”) is not a diminutive of Jennifer or Genevieve, but what is officially noted on her birth certificate and baptismal scroll. She was named in honor of her paternal grandmother Giovannina (Americanized to “Jennie”) who died of pneumonia at the age of 42 shortly before her granddaughter was born.
Jennie Orvino retained her maiden name through two marriages and two divorces. Her former husbands were each poets of considerable talent whom she admired and supported, but she specifically did not wish them to be mentioned by name in her obit. . .
Orvino’s death at age 86 was predicted in a life graph by Indian astrologer and meditation guru Swami Hariharananda. According to family members, she failed to wake up from a nap at Keawakapu Beach Park, in Kihei, Maui, the crackling of palm fronds and twittering of shore birds her final lullaby. . .
When Orvino was 21 years old, she wrote in an early volume of her lifelong diary: “I think my purpose is to write poetry and work for peace.” It seems she could never come up with a better mission, or if she did, she did not make a public declaration of it. . .
[. . .]
In Lieu of Flowers
By far the majority of her charitable contributions were reserved for non-corporate media like Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now, KPFA listener-sponsored radio, The Nation Magazine, and San Francisco PBS affiliate KQED. Memorial donations should be made to any of the above.
You get the idea. Try it! You may be surprised at what you discover.
RELATED NOTE: In a previous post, I described my first visit to a local Death Café and received several expressions of interest. The next Sonoma County meeting is this Saturday Oct. 7, 2:30-4 p.m. at Fountaingrove Lodge, Santa Rosa.
Jennie, I so enjoy your blogs, thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas. Btw, my husband and I were also married on September 19th, 30 years ago.
As usual, Jennie, I love your insightful wisdom mixed with humor. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!