Our Obituaries Are Written Before We're Dead

Clouds out of a plane window


For forty years, I worked in the advertising industry writing headlines, body copy, overseeing a team of graphic designers, and developing creative marketing communications for corporate America. The headline above is what we call a startling statement—to say the least. Yet, the principle behind this one is both practical and profound. Please don’t let it make you uncomfortable. I see the silver lining. It says more about our life than death. Stay with me a minute.

Think about it. An obituary is a summary of our life—and how we lived it. Every day, we add a new sentence, an extra memory, or a fresh image, so one day we’ve compiled our “story” and taken a snapshot of who we are.

As I write this these words, I’m flying home from Florida. I’m currently at 30,000 feet in a virtual “tube with wings” as it cuts through the sky at 500 mph. After noticing the above headline, I’ve paused from reading and started writing this newsletter by scribbling my thoughts on the back of my boarding pass.

I did not write the above headline. It found me—as I was reading a book by author Austin Kleon during this flight. Yet, as I glance out the window at the clouds that surround the aircraft, I can’t help but notice how this environment nudges me to ponder this unexpected headline and consider all I can glean from it.

It got me thinking. If I were to write my obituary, what would I say? How would I recap my life? What mattered? What did I stand for? What did I give my life to? What is worthy of mention? Anything memorable? Forgettable? Regrettable? Did I make a difference in other’s lives?

By asking myself these questions today, I realize that while my obituary will be typed after I’m dead, it’s being written while I’m alive—and I contribute to “my story” every day—by how I live.

Now, as I gaze out the window, high above the ground, it appears as though the plane is floating atop the clouds. It’s quiet up here. The sun is shining and I feel like I’m amid the heavens. Perhaps that’s another reason this headline strikes me so deeply today, and I pause to capture these thoughts on my wrinkled boarding pass.

I do not intend these thoughts to be heavy. They’re just drifting through my mind as I sit on top of the world. Yet, the author’s headline makes sense to me—challenges me—motivates me to live a more meaningful others-centered, faith-based life.

It’s something I’ll ponder again—when my feet are squarely on the ground—and my head is out of the clouds.



SOMETHING TO CHEW ON: If you were to write your own obituary, what would you say?


I talk a bit more about this subject in this former blog titled, How to Live Your Life Backwards. https://jamescmagruder.com/news/how-live-your-life-backwards
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