Life Lines

Two weeks ago, the “About Lynn” section of this brand new blog somehow migrated to the Bangor Daily News obituary section.

I’m dead serious.

When I shared this fatal mistake on Facebook, I got a lot of “likes” and laughs. “This could only happen to you, Lynn,” some said. I’m not sure this could only happen to me, but wacky occurrences do seem to punctuate my life, and when they do, I get a kick out of sharing my memorable mishaps or moments with anyone who will listen.

As a middle school student once put it, “It’s like Weird just jumps out and gets you, Miss B.”

The really weird thing is that obituaries have dominated my thoughts lately — and in my spare time, I’ve even been drafting a couple of them: my father’s and mine.

Because I’m a slow writer myself, I know that crafting words under duress or time constraints can be difficult, so to save my loved ones some angst, I’m giving them guidance and a little head start — I’m starting my own obituary file.

So what kind of stuff does one toss into a self-obituary file? For starters, a very old resume (so old, in fact, that it contains my then height and weight), a brief biographical sketch written by my husband, and a note warning my children not to peek at my diaries until long after the death notice has been published.

A while ago, I asked my dad if we could review the finer points of his life in preparation for his obituary. While penning an obituary about one’s parent — with said parent — might seem strange, especially when death is not imminent, I knew my 87 year-old father would be delighted to share this task.

Throughout his happy life and distinguished career in public administration, my father has collected countless kudos, awards, and newspaper clippings, written dozens of diary entries, and saved nearly every letter he ever wrote. When I visit him in his care facility, we often peruse his scrapbooks and reminisce.

Sometimes he regales me with childhood stories; other times he reads me selections from his diary entries. (My personal favorite? March 1978 when he noted that at the moment my sister was his “only normal child.”)

My father saved so much personal memorabilia that several years ago, when he wrote and self-published his memoir (Life is Luck), he couldn’t use it all, so now he’s contemplating crafting a sequel.

When we met to discuss his obituary, Dad and I had a straight-forward talk peppered with our usual dose of humor, the same type of discussion I later had with my mother about her life; in fact this is how my parents, my siblings and I most always communicate.

After my father and I confirmed his pertinent life information, I tucked away my notes, and we moved onto more important topics such as his grandchildren and the Red Sox. When his time comes, I’ll work with my family to shape my jottings into an accurate, personalized account which will honor our father’s life.

My parents’ ability and willingness to confront even the toughest of topics — even death — with honesty, forthrightness, and a rich sense of humor has been the greatest gift they could have given my siblings and me. This gift has seen all of us through some very challenging times, especially in recent years as our parents have aged and my siblings and I have collaborated to make several difficult decisions. Along this journey, many professionals involved in our parents’ care have noted how lucky we are, because most families do not operate the way ours does.

This makes me sad. But it also makes me think that maybe I’m missing the point and putting too much emphasis on what’s written in an obituary.

Because someday, when my brother, sister and I close that last page in our dad’s final scrapbook, it won’t be the highlights of his life we’ll remember — it will be the  straight talk, the stories, and the laughter.

Lynn Bonsey

About Lynn Bonsey

Who knew that in my sixties, I’d be simultaneously dealing with adolescent angst, adult children, and elder care? Days, I teach middle level students to read and write. Nights and weekends, I often spend with my father and mother who live in separate facilities in separate towns. My two siblings and I collaborate to ensure our parents’ quality care, which requires patience, vigilance, and constant advocacy. In the midst of all this, I lean on my husband, a retired educator, to keep me sane and happy.