My Obituary Essay

The topic of death terrifies most of us. Facing our own mortality is neither a pleasant thought, nor is it one that most of us would choose to entertain on a daily basis. Even as I type the word "death," I am suddenly reminded of the absolute truth that all of us will die, including myself and all of those whom I love -- or not.

With last week's passing of Westboro's infamous Fred Phelps, I was reminded once again that death comes for us all. It matters not how we live our lives, for death is an immutable event and one of life's few universal commonalities, though the chosen trajectories of each life may dictate the timing of our day of ultimate atonement.

While some have chosen to celebrate the passing of a man whose life was dedicated to shaming others for their choices and most often doing so during times of mourning, others, such as famed internet persona George Takei, have taken a different path -- offering a poignant, yet unexpected commentary, considering Takei's own membership within Phelps' primary target group:

I take no solace or joy in this man's passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding "God Hates Freds" signs, tempting as it may be.

He was a tormented soul, who tormented so many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.

As for me, this reminder of death's certainty has provoked me to embark on a strange task: to write my own obituary. While I am no closer to death than any other healthy, 30-something male, I felt this was a good time not only to reflect upon my life to date, but more importantly, to make reasonable predictions for where my life will be later, so that I might have a document to hold me accountable to the life I want others to know me for, once I truly am gone. I do not plan on writing it like one would write a life history, but more as a list of the qualities I want to be remembered for...

Lessons from the early years

While I'm sure close friends of mine from childhood might remember me differently, what I want to be remembered for most from my younger years is that I had creativity and initiative. Coming from a larger family that was immersed in poverty for the majority of my adolescent years, I learned creativity. When one is poor, having more intentions than means with which to carry out those intentions, one becomes inventive. I often tell my children stories about how I played with rocks to pretend I was Indiana Jones with a sacred relic, used sticks as pretend guns when we played cops & robbers, and even practiced my Jordan-esque fade away jumper with a flattened soccer ball I found in the bushes. The imagination soars when enough limits are applied, forcing us to think beyond the painfully obvious.

That creativity extended to relationships as well. In a family where poverty extended beyond financial exigency into a sustained emotional vacuum, I learned early on that if I wanted immaterial wealth such as friendship, respect and even love, I had to take initiative to seek it out myself, since it wasn't going to randomly perch itself at my doorstep. Through the painful process of trial and error, I learned that, to obtain these things, I had to give them -- generously, sincerely and often.

Lessons from early adulthood

Coming out of poverty and striking out on my own as a young man, I wanted to live a life free from the shackles of being poor, whether literally or in spirit, and as a result, I developed a rabid sense of ambition. As a 19-year-old new father, I determined that my life was going to eclipse my own father's life in terms of what I thought was success. While avoiding the mistakes he admitted to having made, I became ignorant to the ones I was really making, even though they were painfully clear to those around me.

My job became my life, and I gave all to this sense of ambition at the expense of time spent with my first two children. Eventually, my first marriage also suffered, and the ever-approaching light at the end of my ambition's tunnel turned out to be the freight train of divorce. This sent me into a self-reckoning tailspin, in which I tried making up for lost time with respect to my early 20s (a.k.a., partying like a college student).

Fortunately, I met the love of my life during this time, who succeeded in pulling this downward spiral to a screeching halt, against my will. It would not be until later when I realized the significance of her act of selfless and unconditional love. Only after several years of putting up with my childish antics, daily shouting matches and threats to end another marriage would I come to the conclusion that the reason my partner stayed with me was because of her selflessness, hope and undying love.

Once I realized this, ambition took on a new meaning for me. Nearing the end of my 20s, I set out to redefine how I saw myself. Say what you will about Sigmund Freud, but one of his quotes defined the decade that would follow:

How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved!

How bold, indeed. Before I knew it, I was enrolled in college as a grown adult, married, with three children (four by the time I finished). I worked tirelessly to set a strong example for everyone around me: wife, extended family, children, friends, etc. Often, I had to work up to four part-time jobs to make ends meet, and still, we were again immersed in abject poverty, but this time, with a stark difference.

We were happy.

The times when life's challenges were at their most extreme are the ones I remember most fondly. While we didn't have cable or satellite television, we read more books, spent time outside, played cards and board games with each other, or raced laundry baskets up and down the hallway of our single-wide trailer! Around this time, I recall reading Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and a quote from early within its pages struck me:

One time, as a child, in a power failure, his mother had found and lit a last candle and there had been a brief hour of rediscovery, of such illumination that space lost its vast dimensions and drew comfortably around them, and they, mother and son, alone, transformed, hoping that the power might not come on again too soon...

My newly redefined ambition not only sparked, but engulfed me in a blaze of desire to become the best father and husband I could be.

Lessons from the life left in me that has not yet passed

I'm not exactly middle-aged yet, or at least, the Peter Pan archetype prevalent in my personality tells me I'm not. In fact, my kids still jokingly buy me anniversary cards every year to celebrate yet another anniversary of my 29th birthday.

However, that doesn't mean I can't predict what my obituary should say about this time in my life. My personal goal is now to mentally write an "obituary" for myself from others' perspectives. The question I ask myself now is, "What will people most remember me for, during this time in my life?"

Fred Phelps may be gone, but the effects from his life will last a long time, despite our best efforts to forget. Whatever we plant today through our actions will have a ripple effect for generations to come.

How about you? What might people say about you if you were to die tomorrow?

Better yet, what do you want them to say?

Now that you have that thought planted firmly in your mind, take charge of your own story.

Live your life's story by writing it through the actions by which you want to be remembered.

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How to Write an Obituary

Jordana Kluyt –Office Manager

The following is a guide to composing an obituary. One of our Funeral Directors will assist with any final touches, as well as ensuring that the obituary is published in any newspaper you request.

To avoid any mistakes, you should print rather than write the draft out by hand. If you are typing the obituary, please provide Oliver’s with a hard copy as well as a saved copy on either a USB Drive or e-mail us a copy:   
SUBJECT:   <deceased last name>

Click here to read sample obituaries.

Please click here for printer-friendly Obituary template

If you need any assistance or have any questions regarding obituaries please call me at any time.

We at Oliver’s will help you put together an obituary that will honour your loved one.

That is our promise to you.

What is an Obituary?

An obituary is often the first thing people read in the newspaper each day - and, for many, it will likely be the last thing written about their lives. More than merely a ‘goodbye’ to the deceased, it is a farewell detailing their life in chronological order. An obituary also serves as notification that an individual has passed away and provides information on any services that are scheduled to take place. Since the cost of running an obituary generally varies by length, it is best to be aware of the ‘line rate’ for each paper you want the obituary to appear in before you begin your composition. People often save obituaries as remembrances of someone they loved, so make sure that the final product is something worthy of a scrapbook and - more importantly - worthy of your loved one's memory.

What Should Be Included?

Standard pieces of information to include are the announcement, biographical, scheduled services and memorials


It is important to state the deceased's full name, along with their dates of birth and death. You may wish to consider placing a photograph (which can appear in black and white) along with the text for an additional charge.

Biographical Information

Recount, in a concise manner, the significant events in the life of the deceased. This may include the schools he or she attended and any degrees attained as well as their vocations or interests.

Survivors and Predeceased Information

It is customary to list family members who have survived the deceased, as well as immediate family members who predeceased him or her, including:

  • Parents
  • Spouse/partner and children (with their spouses’/partners’ names also noted in brackets, if applicable)
  • Adopted children
  • Stepchildren
  • Siblings
  • Half and step siblings
  • Grandchildren
  • Surviving in-laws


These surviving relatives should be listed by name. Other relatives need not be mentioned by name but may be referenced in terms of their relationship to the deceased: for example, the obituary may say that the deceased leaves behind five grandchildren, seven nieces, etc.

Scheduled Services

Provide details of the scheduled services, including the time, date and address. These may include the funeral, visitations, burial and memorial service as applicable.


Give the name and mailing address of a foundation or society to which you wish to direct any memorial donations made in honour of your loved one. The decision as to which foundation or society to support may be based upon interests or values that your loved one expressed during life or related to a medical condition which he or she had. We recommend you refrain from using the phrase ‘ in lieu of flowers ’ when requesting memorial donations. Instead, start the final paragraph of the obituary with the words ‘ Memorial donations may be made to … .'

Final Considerations

All information included in the obituary should be verified with another family member. Have them assist you in confirming the dates, those who should be mentioned, correct spelling of names and the details of the scheduled funeral service.

If you are having trouble getting started, read other obituaries (Click here to see samples)

Take into consideration when and in which newspapers (both local and out of town) you wish your funeral director to publish the obituary.

  • "It is with great sadness that the family of (deceased name) announce (his/her) passing...."
  • "(Deceased name) will be sadly missed by ...."
  • "Fondly remembered by...."
  • "Forever remembered by...."
  • "Lovingly remembered by...."
  • "Wife/husband and best friend of (number) years...."
  • "A Celebration of (deceased's name) life will be held on...."


Obituary Samples

The following are three fictitious examples of obituaries:


FORBES, Alex Downton
It is with great sadness that the family of Alex Downton Forbes announces his passing after a brief illness, on Saturday, April 3, 2014, at the age of 70 years. Alex will be lovingly remembered by his wife of 45 years, Joan and his children, Mike (Judy), Brad (Jill), Sue (Dan) Armandeau, and Ryan (Heidi). Bill will also be fondly remembered by his eight grandchildren, Brandy, Kala, Jack, Phillip, Jonah, Mackenzie, Paul and Austin, by his sisters, Ann (Joe) Kispinski, Eileen Rudolph and by sister-in-law Anne Forbes. Alex was predeceased by his brother Anton Forbes.

A Funeral Service in memory of Alex will be held on Thursday, April 7, 2014 at 1:00 p.m., at the Oliver’s Funeral Home, 10005 – 107 Ave, Grande Prairie, with Rev. George Malcolm officiating. Interment will follow in the family plot at Emerson Trail Cemetery. Those who so desire may make memorial donations in memory of Alex to the (name and mailing address of foundation/society).


Riley, Laura (nee Gorman)
On Monday, February 3, 2014, Laura Riley, wife, mother, daughter and sister, passed away suddenly at the age of 36 years. Laura will be forever remembered by her husband and best friend Greg, and their precious children, Cody and Pamela, by her parents Jack and Ann Gorman, and by her brothers and sisters Andrew (Jill), Ken (Hope), Kim (Justin) Halow and Tianna (Wade) O'Halen. Andrea will also be forever remembered by her numerous nieces, nephews and extended family and dear friends.

A Prayer Service will be held on Thursday, February 6, at 7:00 p.m., at Oliver’s Funeral Home, 10005 – 107 Ave, Grande Prairie.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated in memory of Laura on Friday, February 7, at 10:00 a.m., at St. Joseph ’ s Catholic Church, 10404 - 102 Street, Grande Prairie, with Reverend Remi Hebert C.Ss.R. presiding.

Memorial donations in memory of Laura may be made to (name and mailing address of foundation/society).


Dalton, John "Jack"
John Dalton, known to friends as "Jack," passed away on September 4, 2014, at the age of 78 years.

A native of Grovedale, Jack attended the University of Alberta, graduated with a degree in law and practiced in the Peace River area prior to being appointed to the bench of the Alberta Supreme Court.

In 1959, he began his law career with Dion and Dechant law firm where he was to spend his entire time in private practice. He was appointed Crown Attorney in 1980 and Justice of Family Court in 1982, serving in this capacity until 1990 when he was appointed as a Justice of the Alberta Supreme Court.

Jack served on the boards of numerous organizations, including Evergreen Park and the Tepee Creek Stampede, Parkinson's Research Foundation, as well as chair of the Alberta Toastmasters for three years.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Cora (nee Dechant), sons Colin, Jr. (Lori) and Adam (Jacquie), 10 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

A Celebration of Jack ’ s life will be held at 10 am, on Monday, September 7, at the Oliver’s Funeral Home, 10005 – 107 Ave, Grande Prairie, with Reverend Mary Blackburn officiating.

Memorial donations in memory of Jack can be made to (name and mailing address of foundation/society).



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