Expect the Unexpected

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Write your own obituary

To celebrate your life, write your own obituary.

To celebrate your life, write your own obituary.

Preparing for one’s death is not easy. No one wants to think about it, dwell on it, or ultimately accept it. But it’s going to happen. It may happen late in life, or it may happen much sooner than expected. One never knows.

But we have to think about death and we should. Don’t leave it up to others to decide if you should be buried or cremated, and where your remains should go. Decide now, write it down, and take any guesswork out of it.

Many people are good about these things. They have a family burial plot, or they’ve put in their will their desire to be cremated and have their ashes spread across a mountaintop. But one detail can escape even the most fastidious planner — writing their own obituary.

When families are going through the grieving process they are not in the best emotional state to write your obituary. So do it for them. If you have no close next of kin, don’t leave it up to the funeral home. They often only have the barest of information to work with.

As a newspaper journalist, I’ve seen some very sad, empty obituaries — the person’s name, date of death, next of kin, occupation. Done.

There may have been so much more to say about that person’s life, or something that person wanted to say or express. But no.

James Rebhorn

James Rebhorn

Actor James Rebhorn, who most recently appeared in the TV show Homeland, died last week from melanoma. He wrote his own obituary and it was so thoughtful and caring that it’s been reprinted by news sources everywhere.

While preparing this blog post, I thought about attaching links to websites to help people write their own obituaries. But then I realized there was something better. Because, in addition to achieving success as an actor, Mr. Rebhorn can now add “teacher” to his list of accomplishments. His obituary is a model for others.

It is not just a mere recitation of his professional accomplishments, it’s personal. He says what he’s learned from family members and what they meant to him. And by talking about others, we see a better picture of him and his life. He was much more than an actor on Homeland.

James Rebhorn’s obituary:

His Life, According to Jim

James Robert Rebhorn was born on Sept. 1, 1948, in Philadelphia, PA. His mother, Ardell Frances Rebhorn, nee Hoch, loved him very much and supported all his dreams. She taught him the value of good manners and courtesy, and that hospitality is no small thing. His father, James Harry Rebhorn, was no less devoted to him. From him, Jim learned that there is no excuse for poor craftsmanship. A job well done rarely takes more or less time than a job poorly done. They gave him his faith and wisely encouraged him to stay in touch with God.

He is survived by his sister, Janice Barbara Galbraith, of Myrtle Beach, SC. She was his friend, his confidant, and, more often than either of them would like to admit, his bridge over troubled waters.

He is also survived by his wife, Rebecca Fulton Linn, and his two daughters, Emma Rebecca Rebhorn and Hannah Linn Rebhorn. They anchored his life and gave him the freedom to live it. Without them, always at the center of his being, his life would have been little more than a vapor. Rebecca loved him with all his flaws, and in her the concept of ceaseless love could find no better example.

His children made him immensely proud. Their dedication to improving our species and making the world a better place gave him hope for the future. They deal with grief differently, and they should each manage it as they see fit. He hopes, however, that they will grieve his passing only as long as necessary. They have much good work to do, and they should get busy doing it. Time is flying by. His son-in-law, Ben, also survives him. Jim loved Ben, who was as a son to Jim, especially through these last months.

His aunts Jean, Dorothy and Florence, numerous cousins and their families, and many devoted friends also survive Jim. He loved them all, and he knows they loved him.

Jim received his BA at Wittenberg University and his MFA at Columbia. He was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Nu Zeta 624, a life-long Lutheran, and a longtime member of both the AMC and ACLU.

Jim was fortunate enough to earn his living doing what he loved. He was a professional actor. His unions were always there for him, and he will remain forever grateful for the benefits he gained as a result of the union struggle. Without his exceptional teachers and the representation of the best agents in the business, he wouldn’t have had much of a career. He was a lucky man in every way.

–Jim Rebhorn, March 2014

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