While doing research for an assignment in my poetry class a couple of years ago, I found an obituary for a guy named Freddie. His self-penned obituary expressed the late author’s sense of humor, his love for his people, and delightful irreverence, as evidenced by naming a former lover “Big Titty Wanda.” Meanwhile, most of the obituaries I read nearly daily – clearly purchased and drafted by someone other than the professional newspaper staff – often leave me with questions.
What was her favorite joke? Did he love dogs? What secrets will never be revealed? And, the most glaring omission, how did she or he die? Cancer? Suicide? One hot dog too many and the county fair? Unknown causes? Orneriness?
I decided to follow Freddie’s lead, although I unfortunately do not know a Big Titty Wanda, and try writing my own. The process enthralled me. I did it again, a few weeks later. That time my cause of death was complications from a broken hip that occurred while teaching a hip hop class at age 63. Now, I regularly update a current day draft and I also play around with wildly different futures.
There are a few consistent themes in all of my obituaries, including my love for my sons and my huge appetite for anything that brings me joy, and, of course, I always list a cause of death. This version, nearly two years old, is among my favorites.
January 30, 1977-May 23, 2014
Early the morning of her death, she convinced the Friday morning whirling dervish version of her son, Nick, to run outside to spy a hot air balloon. They couldn’t see it from the front yard so she squatted to allow him easy access to her back and ran down the street, barefoot, with his heavy, nearly 8-year-old body bouncing on her back, until he could see the magic. She also said good morning to nearly 16-year-old Steven and he said good morning back. Husband Bill kissed her awake and wished her a happy 10 years plus one day of marriage. She smiled.
Born Angela Spring Dilkes to kind and thoughtful Kathy and passionately intense Greg, she embodied the best and worst of both parents. She talked with them, often under the guise of Facetiming with the grandkids, nearly daily, and treasured them as two of her very best friends. Her last decade was peppered with loss; her grandparents, uncle, and sister-like cousin did not survive to see her walk across the stage to receive her college diploma, just two weeks before her death, a fact she mourned as she strutted across the stage.
Obsessed with obituaries, Angi insisted the cause of death should always be listed. Therefore, it must be said: she died from sunstroke after mowing her front yard (fill in the real reason – and be honest!) She leaves behind a village of fantastic people. Most heartbreaking to her as she wrote these words was the thought of leaving her precious sons, Steven and Nick.
To Steven, she leaves her solution to perfectionism: stop giving a shit. “Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain you of your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you and let it devour your remains. For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.” (Charles Bukowski)
To Nick, she leaves her big soft heart and her passion for connecting with others. “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” (Kurt Vonnegut)
She hopes each of you, her exquisite boys, find and make time for passion. Know she’ll be around anytime you need her. Except when you’re in bed with a lover; then she’ll be down the street rearranging the signs marking the neighbor’s perfectly aligned rows of vegetable seeds.
To Bill, she leaves a giant hall pass. She expects you to wear head-to-toe black (orange skivvies are acceptable) for approximately 17 days. And then she expects you to get the hell on with your life. Find a new love, at least one, if not several; being loved by you is a gift and she refuses to be the only recipient.
To brother Geoff, sister-in-law Lara, nephews Clyde and Duke, to Bill’s brothers Lyle and Russell, his sister Lisa, his sister-in-law Dianna, niece Mckayla and nephew Tyler, she’ll keep an eye on all of you. When your door is open but you don’t know why, especially if you already closed it once, she is there. She’ll be like the guardian angel in the comic Rose is Rose.
To her army of people – supporters, detractors, and all – she leaves her love and her loud sideline cheering (that last part, her sons will not miss). Anytime you need an assist, whether to resist the lure of a drink, a woman, or a karaoke microphone, or help to climb that last hill (on a bike or in your imagination), she’s hollering that you can do it.
And, before she becomes someone people once knew, she wanted to clear the air about a few things. Yes, she did sleep with your boyfriend in high school. But not before you called her awful names; it was after. Revenge is a satisfying tool. He was lousy; you can keep him.
And those steamy scenes in the book she never published? Those were really hers. Mostly. She loved sex and sex loved her. Please don’t gasp; you should love it too. If you don’t already love it, she prescribes a weekly listen to the Savage Love podcast. Dan will open your eyes and teach you about how normal the things you want to do but are afraid to seem too “kinky” really are. Everyone has a kink. Rock on with your kinky self. And stop calling women sluts. It isn’t kind, true, or necessary. You don’t like the way she rolls? Don’t have sex with her. Or, if she’s interested in you, do. You’ll likely learn something.
This stuff about sex… it’s really about life. Who gives a flying leap if no one else you know loves cricket? In this day and age, find a cricket message board and make new cricket-loving friends. A lush, thick carpet of grass is your life’s dream? Find someone working at a golf course and ask questions. Obsessively chase the dogs off of your lawn, trim the edges with scissors, and ignore the rubberneckers as they drive home to clover-infested grass.
Take it from Angi: this life is far too short to waste it worrying about what other people think.
She wrote and rewrote this obituary, as well as drafts for alternate versions of her life, a few times a year (though she hoped the version she wrote for her 99-year-old self would ultimately be the one her family used) as a tool to examine her life, to feel grateful, and to remember what mattered. Living matters. Do her a favor: think of something crazy that you’ve always wanted to do and do it. Today.
This piece was originally published in our 23rd print magazine WILD.