4 Reasons to Have the Last Say
You're going to die, so tell your story while you can.
Posted August 3, 2015
Days before my father-in-law's recent memorial service, we gave the celebrant several sheets of paper that Leland had written years ago to be used as his obit. There were few of us at the minimal service, and we asked the celebrant to sit right in front of my mother-in-law (who is very hard of hearing) while reading the pages. The celebrant told us later that this was the first time he'd read something like that, written by the deceased.
For me, though, that eulogy was a wasted opportunity, not the kind I'd want. After all, it was all names and dates and places, in chronological order, focusing on jobs and moves and vacations, with only the merest sentence or two of summing up what a good life he'd had. There was nothing surprising or especially moving about it.
While he wasn't a writer, you needn't be in order to have the last say. Maybe that's why I enjoyed the simplicity and clarity of Alan Gelb's new book, Having the Last Say: Capturing Your Legacy in One Small Story. Gelb, a writing coach and baby boomer confronting our inevitable mortality, provides guidance for anyone who wants to have the last say about their own experience of living.
Gelb points out that there's a long Jewish tradition of passing on family and religious history and values via something called an ethical will. What Gelb likes to call your Last Say organically evolves from that kind of impulse. His book offers numerous examples of such little stories (anecdotes, personal essays) that are only 500-1000 words long. This exercise is more doable and less overwhelming than aiming for the comprehensiveness of a full-length memoir.
Alan suggests that each of us compose a brief essay that expresses a single piece of our life. Here are four reasons why:
1. In traditional funerals, a eulogy is often spoken by someone who didn't know the deceased. Such words describe the positives of the one who died in a way that few attending even recognize, let alone gain any comfort from. Your own Last Say could replace such a bland eulogy.
2. Your Last Say makes a fine keepsake for those who've been important to you. You might read it at Thanksgiving, for example, and pass out copies.
3. Working on your Last Say is a way of beginning a life review, something that becomes more and more relevant as we age. Reflecting on the meaning of your life is best done while there is still time to take action, if you choose to. In other words, now or (maybe) never.
4. If you'd like to be a better writer , for any reason, working on your Last Say is a safe, engaging way to do this. You'll be writing about what you know best, with no grades. And you can always look forward to writing another one if you get inspired later.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel