Val Patterson decided to take matters into his own hands.
Knowing he was dying of throat cancer, he wrote his own obituary, which was printed after his death on July 10 in the Salt Lake Tribune.
“As it turns out,” he wrote, “I AM the guy who stole the safe from View Drive Inn back in 1971.”
His Ph.D. from the University of Utah was a fraud. In fact, he didn’t even know what “Ph.D.” stood for. And his only regret was smoking cigarettes, which ultimately led to his throat cancer.
It was just so honest, so revealing and so real. It was actually refreshing to read someone tell the truth — and in their own words.
So often we remember only the good in people after they’ve passed. And while that’s appropriate — why dwell on the bad? — it’s not a complete composite of the person at all. We’re supposed to accept each other, faults and all, so why not admit to them?
My favorite part, though, was his parting advice: “If you want to live forever, then don’t stop breathing, like I did.”
All this made me think: what would I want my obit to say?
Back when I was a reporter at now-defunct The Honolulu Advertiser, we had to write our own obituaries and save them to what was labeled the “Undead” folder. I remember reading through them in between interviews and writing. Some were simple and basic; others ran for hundreds of column inches, noting every event in their lives, even the mundane. Some were funny, even quoting themselves.
I never wrote one. I didn’t know what to write.
So if you had the chance to write your own obituary, what would you say? Would you confess to everything the way Patterson did?