Contributing Author: Mary Ashley, NDAA Well-being Task Force Vice Chair

Photo credit: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels

hat would you want others to say about you at your own funeral? Have you ever thought about it? How would you want your obituary to read?

Since COVID 19 has caused so much death, illness, pain and destruction, I find myself reading obituaries much more often than I used to.

In fact, I never used to read them at all. And the photos. I have to look at each person’s picture. It almost feels disrespectful if I don’t. Now some would say it’s just because I’m “getting older” and that’s normal to see how old people were, the cause of death and so forth. It’s a check of one’s own mortality. Maybe it’s true. After all, I will be turning fifty years old in just a month. But I have found something much more interesting than an age or cause of death. I have found a cause of life, actually, many of them.

What I have discovered by reading these often very lengthy and detailed obituaries are . . . stories. Hundreds of stories. So many interesting lives and histories for many people who are now gone. Beautiful love stories, people who overcame unbelievable circumstances and whose lives they touched. I read about incredible accomplishments, lives lived with purpose and service to their communities. We are surrounded by wonderful human beings every day, most of whom we will never know.

So, I thought about the concept of writing my own obituary as an experiment as to what I think people might say about me as opposed to what I think my own impact is on the lives of others. Or, asking your best friend or a family member to do it. Why wait until we aren’t here anymore to hear what, most hopefully, are the deep thoughts and feelings people have for one another now. The things we just don’t say because we don’t think we need to. Only people with big egos need to hear how “great” they are, right? I don’t think so. If you know how you affected others, or what they admired about you most, wouldn’t that be a game changer when it comes to perspective? Couldn’t that encourage you to do even more for others and unleash as much generosity of time and spirit as possible? It might.

In pouring over so many life stories in the last several months, I do notice something unique. No one is remembered for the house they lived in, the car they drove or how much money they had. They are remembered for their kind hearts, life accomplishments and how they will be missed. They stand out for the “little things” they might have enjoyed, hobbies that became passions or just the way they made people feel when they were around them. Reading an obituary can almost be seen as a manual for how to live a life. One that is filled with joy and kindness. And what an opportunity to make the changes now when you still can. Finding the gaps or spaces that can be filled in between the dashes of when you are born and when you died with so much more than “stuff”. There is a lovely poem written by Linda Ellis entitled The Dash that hits exactly upon this point. In one poignant part it reads “For it matters not how much we own . . . the cars . . . the house . . . the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.”

How do I want to be remembered? Beloved? Generous? Big-hearted? All of the above, of course. So now I have the chance to live up to what I want to be remembered for!

Next Sunday, if you’re an “older timer” like me, when you’re reading the paper with your coffee in hand, don’t skip over the obituaries. While they used to seem depressing, the perspective can completely change. Join in the true celebration of life while thinking about how you can make your own more fulfilling. We have 365 chances every year. God willing.

Pictured: Mary Ashley

Well-being Task Force Vice Chair, Mary Ashley, is a Deputy District Attorney with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. Along with being a Board member of NDAA, Mary is also a member of the California District Attorneys Association and NDAA’s Vice Chair Women Prosecutors Section.

The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country.