A short life story can be an
alternative to writing an obituary
in advance. When the obituary is needed, all the facts of the life are
already at hand.
story can be composed for oneself or a relative or friend. It only
needs to be a couple of pages long. A life
story has the advantage of being able to be reviewed by the person
involved. This step is good
for checking the accuracy of facts and for the tone as well. A life
story also can be a way to trigger and consolidate memories of the
older – and the not-so-older – members of the family.
As well, Grandma's or Grandpa's life story (while they are still
living) can be presented as a
memento to children and grandchildren.
best way to start is to get started. Get ideas down on paper, and
organize them either by timeline, theme, or both. Don't worry about
style, it can always be improved later. Many events of any person's
life will sound bland and ordinary, but need to be included.
note here about personal diaries (or journals). A diary is written for the person writing it;
a life story or memoir is written for other people. If a diary has been
kept, this could be source material in preparing a short life
story or a longer memoir. Also, if a diary has been kept: make sure
there are instructions for after
death to either have it passed down or destroyed.
a life story is written while the person is still living (and so of
course does not wind up with funeral arrangements), the ending
be happy, and even oriented to the future. Whether
the story is written chronologically or thematically, consider
finishing the story with a positive theme in any case. Cast the final
sentence so it ends with an upbeat or future-oriented word.
Look for a way to end
like: "Belonging to the coin collecting club has been a source
many good memories and continues to bring to his life much enjoyment."
"She has participated in numerous running competitions over the years,
and is preparing to enter the local senior's event next year."
Or even: "He has been greatly interested in the lives of his
grandchildren, and looks forward to seeing them grow and change in the
Alternatively, end with three words that sum up the person's life. (Or,
think of six words; see the review Six Words To
Describe A Life?)
A basic two-page life story also can be a start to a longer memoir. For
more on this subject, see the article “Memoir Man”
a Born Storyteller.
course, having already written the life story, when the time comes for
the obituary, the facts, anecdotes, and themes
of the life lived are already there.
Life Story Writing
this website. Look at the Obituary Template as a guide
for necessary information.
most important thing is to get started. Get your ideas down on
paper. Organize your ideas either by timeline, theme, or a
combination. Worry about improving
the style later. For on-going and current events, use the present tense.
- Get all
While you are collecting ideas, include all the facts, for
example the complete birth dates of ancestors as well as children and grandchildren. This is
more detailed than an obituary needs to be, but can be very useful for
posterity. Ideas for details that are often missed: street
addresses where people lived, locations where deceased ancestors are
- Deal with diaries. Incorporate any information from them; confirm instructions for them after death.
- End on a high note.
Conclude with three words that sum up the life, or with an
on-going theme or interest in the
person's life. Make the ending positive, even inspiring.
- Read it
Read aloud a draft at a family gathering to check facts, to
feedback on descriptions, and to generate more ideas. This process is a
way to not only
confirm, but also relive and revive old memories.
As with any writing, revising improves
the final product. This process not only spots errors, but also
improves the style. An excellent way to improve any writing
is to set it aside for a few days, then look at it with fresh eyes –
your own or someone else's.
Then proofread again.
- Send it
Distribute the completed life story as a
keepsake to family members. It could even prompt the writing of stories
for other family
- Consider a
A short life story can be the basis of a longer work.
- Keep it
Available. Use the life story as a handy
resource for when the obituary is needed.
* * *
Writing: Ten Tips
Six Words To
Describe A Life?
a Born Storyteller
A Family History Writing Workshop
Live Well, Do Good