The Best Obituary Ever

Val Patterson wrote his own obituary and in doing so probably wrote the best one I've ever read

I was Born in Salt Lake City, March 27th 1953. I died of Throat Cancer on July 10th 2012. I went to six different grade schools, then to Churchill, Skyline and the U of U. I loved school, Salt Lake City, the mountains, Utah. I was a true Scientist. Electronics, chemistry, physics, auto mechanic, wood worker, artist, inventor, business man, ribald comedian, husband, brother, son, cat lover, cynic. I had a lot of fun. It was an honor for me to be friends with some truly great people. I thank you. I've had great joy living and playing with my dog, my cats and my parrot. But, the one special thing that made my spirit whole, is my long love and friendship with my remarkable wife, my beloved Mary Jane. I loved her more than I have words to express. Every moment spent with my Mary Jane was time spent wisely.


Now that I have gone to my reward, I have confessions and things I should now say. As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest. Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan at the U of U, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn't even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters "PhD" even stood for. For all of the Electronic Engineers I have worked with, I'm sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked very well, and were well engineered, and I always made you laugh at work.


To the gang: We grew up in the very best time to grow up in the history of America. The best music, muscle cars, cheap gas, fun kegs, buying a car for "a buck a year" - before Salt Lake got ruined by over population and Lake Powell was brand new. TV was boring back then, so we went outside and actually had lives. We always tried to have as much fun as possible without doing harm to anybody - we did a good job at that.

Read the entire obituary here.

I think everyone should write their own obituaries. They're a lot more personal, revealing, emotional, and they turn strangers into real people.

So even though I didn't know Val, I'd like to thank him for setting a new standard in obituary writing. I hope others follow suit.

Update: The Salt Lake Tribune has a great follow-up to the obituary that gives greater insight to Val and his life.


Taunting Death -- Twice!

The photo below are mayonnaise packets from the break room. They are bursting at the seams, just waiting to explode. If I survive the initial explosion, do I taunt death yet again by putting the contents on my sandwich?

Steve Jobs' Best Speech

RIP Steve Jobs. For those who haven't seen it (scroll down to view), the commencement speech he gave at Stanford in 2005 was Steve Jobs' philosophy and life summed up in about 15 minutes. It's also the best commencement speech ever given. An excerpt:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

The Broken Hearts of Widows and Widowers

The Broken Hearts of Widows and Widowers

HitCoffee posted a link to a news story about the affect of grief on one’s health. The article states:

Doctors have long understood the impact of grief on one's health. Now, a new study has revealed how fragile a broken heart can really be. Researchers in Britain have found that bereft people face the risk of death in the first year of being widowed.

In fact, men are six times more likely to die of a broken heart than women. According to lead researcher Dr Jaap Spreeuw of the Cass Business School in London, the study has confirmed the existence of 'broken heart syndrome.

"We all know that the death of a loved one will have massive impact on the life of the husband or wife left behind, but this shows it will have direct impact on their mortality. It statistically proves that people can die of a broken heart during the earliest stages of bereavement," he said.

"The effect is stronger for older people who have been married longer. The good news is that after the first years of mourning, the chance of dying goes down," Dr Spreeuw added.

My first thought was that I already knew this. In fact I remember reading about a similar studies of widows and widowers in college though I don’t recall that study specifically mentioning men as being more venerable than women of dying after the death of a spouse. But I do remember it mentioning that people who were married longer, say 20 or more years, did have increased odds of dying soon after their spouse than those who had been married five years.

That being said, I think anyone who has lost a spouse can understand how easy it could be to die of a broken heart. In Room for Two I wrote:

In a college communications class, I had read about couples who spent most of their lives together. After one died, it was common for the other to pass on soon after, even if he or she was in good health. At the time I couldn’t comprehend how someone could lose their will to live after their spouse was gone. But I began to, at least partially, understand how they felt. Krista had been a significant part of my life for seven years—four as my girlfriend and three as my wife. My life had become completely entwined with hers. Now that she was gone, I didn’t feel complete. I had to force myself to live.

Things I had done willingly before Krista died, like going to work, became a chore. Though my job hadn’t changed, without the prospect of supporting a family, work was boring. There was no incentive for me to put extra effort into my projects. I did just enough to get by. I didn’t care if there were any raises or bonuses in my future. I resisted the urge to walk into my supervisor’s office and quit only because I knew being unemployed and doing nothing would ultimately be worse.

The other thing that intrigued me about the study was how after the first year of a spouse passing the odds of dying from a “broken heart” decrease.

For my own experience, there was something psychologically helpful about making it through the first year. It wasn’t just because Marathon Girl was now a major part of my life (though that was part of it), but there was something about having gone through holidays and other special dates without the late wife once that helped me realize it was only going to get easier the second time around.

LOST: Ji Yeon

Jin's Grave

Dear writers of LOST (especially Drew Goddard and Christina M. Kim):

You probably think you’re really clever by putting a flashforward and a flashback in the same episode. I know you were trying to make it seem that Jin was on his way to the hospital to be with Sun. I know you were trying to build tension in the show and make the surprise ending (Jin is dead!) even more of a bombshell. Well, it worked. However, it came with a price: It made the entire audience feel like a bunch of dupes.

Flashback and flashforwards are a great storytelling technique. However, they’re only effective when they help us understand the motivations, character, and personality of a character better or fill in some vital part of the story. For example, the flashbacks in the episode “The Other Woman” we learned a little more about Juliet’s connection to Godwin, their history, and that she doesn’t mind sleeping with married men. However, what made her flashback really interesting was what it revealed about Ben. We all knew he was narcissistic and evil but that flashback showed us just what a creep he is while setting the stage for a future showdown between Ben and Jack.

Jin’s flashback in “Ji Yeon” didn’t reveal anything about Jin that we didn’t already know. Instead, it served only one purpose: To confuse and misdirect the viewer. The entire flashback was completely unnecessary especially when there were better ways to hide Jin’s fate until the end of the episode. Since we knew Sun’s scenes took place off the island, you could have made her even more delusional and had her calling out for Jin more or asking where he was. Or, you could have focused more on making the doctors seem like they were going to steal her baby. Either way it would have made the same tension you were trying to achieve with the lame flashback.

Aside from that one mistake you crafted a powerful story. You introduced just enough of Michael to make us all wonder why he’s working for Ben. The interaction between Sun and Jin on the island after he learned about the affair was great and felt real. And the scene at Jin’s gravesite at the end was wonderful and touching end to the episode. (Of course we’re all wondering what happened!)

In the future, please refrain from making LOST fans feel like dupes. It’s not that we don’t mind being confused for most of an episode. Rather, at the end of the ride, we don’t want to feel like we were suckered into getting emotionally involved in something that really had nothing to do with the actual story.

Looking forward to future episodes.



The Grief Industry

A few minutes after 9 p.m. Monday, a red Honda traveling at a high rate of speed drove off the road. The driver overcorrected and the car skidded sideways, striking a second vehicle. The driver and the passenger of the Honda, both 16-year-old students at a nearby high school, were declared dead at the scene of the accident. The driver of the second vehicle was taken to the hospital in serious condition. The accident was the lead story on every local news broadcast. It was the main story in the newspapers. Photos of the red Honda, totaled beyond recognition, were shown over and over again.

As I read an article about the accident, what stuck with me wasn’t the sad details but that the high school sent 11 grief counselors to the school to help students cope with their loss.

Eleven grief counselors.

Make no mistake, it was a tragedy. Two sons, friends, and brothers are dead. Another seriously injured. Two families are mourning their loss. A second family is anxiously hoping their loved one will recover.

But this wasn’t Columbine. It was an auto accident most likely caused by an inexperienced driver going too fast. It’s the kind of accident that could have been prevented. Why did the school district feel the need to send 11 grief counselors to the school. Did they feel the need to talk with the entire student body?

Unfortunately sending in an army of grief counselors at the faintest hint of tragedy has become common practice. We’ve become conditioned to believe that no one can begin to move on or start to heal unless we’ve all done our due diligence with a grief counselor or therapist.

Friends and family members of the 16-year-old boys are going to be sad over the coming days, weeks, and months. With some the sadness might linger on for years. And, yes, there may be one or two that need professional help. But most will not. The vast majority of those who loved and knew them will move on with their lives.

Most people – teenagers included – have the ability to adequately cope with death of friend of loved one without professional help. Those most likely to take up the services of the 11 grief counselors those who 1) weren’t that close to the boys who died and 2) already have some type of emotional problem. Rather than sending grief counselors to the school (since when has it become the business of schools to provide grief counseling anyway?) the school should have seen how students were dealing with the death of the boys weeks or months later. Those that appeared to still be having emotional issues should have been referred back to their parents and let them decide how best handle the situation.


Enjoy what you read? Subscribe to Abel's e-mail updates and be the first to learn about upcoming books, essays, and appearances.

More widower-related articles by Abel Keogh

  • Up with Grief NEW!
  • Dating and Marriage: One Regret NEW!
  • Widowers: They're Still Men! NEW!
  • 10 Dating Tips for Widows and Widowers
  • Photos of the Dead Wife
  • 5 Signs a Widower is Serious About Your Relationship
  • How Vice President Joe Biden Dealt with Grief
  • Life with a Widower
  • Dating a Widower
  • The Grief Industry
  • Suicide Survivor
  • A Letter to Elizabeth
  • Sex and Intimacy with Widowers
  • The Widowerhood Excuse
  • How to Talk to a Widower
  • Red Flags to Watch for When Dating A Widower