Don’t worry, I am not dead. At least, not yet (clearly, since I am writing this).
You might think it odd that I am writing my own obituary. You may even consider it vain. But I believe writing your own obituary is actually a pretty worthwhile exercise. (Scroll down if you want to skip the backstory and get straight to the list of reasons why I’m doing this).
When I was in college, I took a course on the Psychology of Death and Dying. In the course, we were asked to write our own obituary. At the time, I found it fascinating. Several years earlier, I had been diagnosed with a heart condition. At that time, my parents and I had had some tough conversations about the future, including the possibility they might outlive their child. Sitting in my psychology class four years later, I felt by completing the assignment, I’d take away the possible burden of my parents having to write my obituary if they ended up outliving me. I dove right in.
To write your own obituary, you have to take a really close look at your life; doing so is an incredibly powerful experience. Even though I was only two decades into my life at the time, I discovered I was proud of myself. I was at peace with my life and my accomplishments. It felt good to see myself clearly like this – an excellent exercise, I decided. I went on to graduate, eventually forgetting the class and the obituary I’d written.
Then, this past weekend, I attended a memorial service honoring an amazing woman and friend I’d gotten to know through my volunteer work at the American Heart Association in Richmond, VA. As I sat and listened to her husband struggle through a heartfelt eulogy, I remembered that old “write your own obituary” assignment, and I began to think again about what I want to happen when I die.
When I die, I want there to be a celebration. I want the world to know that I was here to make a difference, and that I did. I also want the world to know the job of making things better is now theirs, so they can continue on. I want my friends to know how much they meant to me. And I want my husband, my girls, and my parents to know they were the very best parts of my life.
Sitting in the service, these thoughts reminded me of another letter, one I’d written to my oldest daughter, at a time when I’d been facing death, hospitalized for my heart condition. After the service, I went home, found the letter, and reread it. I remembered how uncertain everything had been at the time; we truly didn’t know whether I’d survive. I’d written it so my daughter would always know how much her mom adored her, no matter what happened to me. As I carefully refolded the letter and put it away, I realized that, though I’d been meaning to do it for a while, I’d never gotten around to writing a similar letter for my youngest daughter. I also realized I needed to write a new obituary: the old one didn’t even mention either of my girls. Suddenly, time seemed very short. Losing my friend reminded me that tomorrow is not a guarantee.
When we face death, we can easily see how every second is precious. But you don’t have to wait until you’re on death’s door to make each moment count. If you have someone that you have been “meaning to” catch up with, do it now. Make the call. Send the email. Connect with the people who mean something to you. Prioritize the ones who are here, right now, in your life. Invite them in. Tell them you love them. Show up for them. Thank them for being part of your life.
And, thank YOU for being part of mine.
So… why am I writing my own obituary again?
- The first time I did it, it was thought-provoking and healing, and there’s never a bad time for either of those things.
- My old self-written obituary is grossly out of date.
- Writing my obituary ensures my message is shared with the world (so it can never become something I “meant” to do).
Without further ado, here it is.
Bunny Young’s Obituary
Ashley Bunny Christine Sumner Young passed away peacefully in her sleep on February 14th, 2020 at her country home in Virginia. A California girl at heart, she was born in Thousand Oaks, California on October 25. She joins her aunt, Kathleen Ellis; her grandparents, Robert and Catherine Fowler; her best friend, Ryan; and her service animal, Goose, in heaven.
She is survived by her sexy, handsome-beast-of-a-husband, Steve Young, Jr.; her brilliant and adoring daughters, Rocky and Vyctoria; her dedicated parents, John and Maureen Sumner; her loyal, servant-hearted service animal, Guinness; her four-legged kids, Blue, Titan, Paul, and Kennedy; and an impactful community of difference-makers, who Bunny adored.
Bunny dedicated her life to making this world a better place. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona and her Master’s from Prescott College; she went on to explore early careers as a model, a stuntwoman, and an EMT. As Bunny grew, so did her impact. A true entrepreneur, she was known for her ability to see a need, then start a business to meet the need, never waiting for someone else’s permission. Her business and personal experience with service animals eventually led Bunny to found a national service animal nonprofit, Pawssible, focused on service animal awareness and education. Bunny was incredibly proud of her clients for the profound impact they had on the world.
With her direct manner and dry humor, Bunny had a way of saying things that made you think. As a retired therapist, she often joked her version of support was like a “sugar-coated butt-kicking” (except she didn’t say “butt”). In all her roles, from coach and speaker to mother and wife, Bunny approached every individual with respect and an open mind. She was intentional with her time, yet she always had plenty of it for a friend in need. Her disdain for hugging led to the famous “E.T. Touch” when saying goodbye to friends and colleagues.
One of Bunny’s many passions in life was horses. She enjoyed riding often and frequently shared how much she loved her weekly rides with her daughter, Rocky. Bunny also facilitated professional development retreats on the ranch, and she even wrote two books on equine activities for learning and therapy.
In addition to horses, Bunny loved surfing, the beach, collecting rocks, softball, killing monsters at Drive Shack, traveling with her family, and eating Nutella by the spoonful. But the thing that gave her the most pride and joy was watching her two incredible daughters find their way in this world. She believed her single greatest accomplishment in making this world a better place was giving birth to them.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Bunny’s non-profit, Pawssible, at 42 Broad Street, #201, Manakin Sabot, VA, 23103.
I love my obituary. Now, I’m off to live up to my own legacy.
Will you write your own obituary, too?
If you do, share it in the comments. I’d love to know what difference you’re making in the world.