November is National Life Writing Month. We asked Susan Soper, one of Legacy.com’s experts at LegacyConnect and an authority on writing a life story, why it’s so important to write about your life.
When I was a pre-schooler growing up in a small town outside of Boston, the minute my dad heard a fire engine roar to life, he’d toss me into our 1951 Ford convertible and I’d stand against the back seat – flattened by speed into place – while he took chase.
I think his curiosity was contagious, took hold of me during those races and just might explain how I became a journalist. It was a career that allowed me a legitimate excuse to ask questions, probe beyond polite inquiry and push for answers when they were not immediately forthcoming. Chasing a story to an unknown conclusion isn’t too unlike speeding down suburban streets without a clue to destination or discovery.
Whether it was covering school board meetings, murders, kidnappings, cultural events or personality profiles, I was never happier than when gathering the who, what, when, why, where and how. The writing was also fun and, with enough answers, it came relatively easy to me (I say relatively as I was not one to agonize over prose or be demonized by deadlines). But it was the pursuit that really got my adrenaline pumping.
Even now, with the bulk of my journalism days behind me, I am still pretty relentless in going after a “story.” At cocktail parties or gatherings with new aquaintances, my husband cautions me not to be embarrassingly aggressive in my social “reporting.” I can get to know someone standing in line at the post office, coming out of a movie or ordering dinner from a waiter.
I can hardly help it. Like reading biographies to learn what made someone tick, what tricks they had and what gave them direction, I encounter people with wonder and genuine interest.
It is, I suppose, what has guided my current focus on and participation in the obituary writing process.
In the introduction to ObitKit™, a workbook I created to help people leave a legacy and some hints about their final wishes, I write how I wish I had had a record of what motivated and inspired the people I loved and lost too early – the places and people that moved them and of the work and play that was most gratifying.
Their stories – and everybody has one – deserve to be saved and treasured.
When I read obituaries of people I thought I knew, I am always amazed by what I learn about them. I must not have been such a good reporter, after all, in my conversations with them. How did those fascinating stories, come to light too late, escape my probing?
Even complete strangers captivate me with the fascinating details of their lives, poignantly – sometimes humorously – described by their loved ones in the obits.
In the obituaries I have written for close family and friends, I inevitably learn something about them I would never have guessed – and always wish they were still around for me to dig deeper into the details of a pursuit, an accomplishment, an adventure or rite of passage.
With ObitKit, I encourage everyone to be their own reporter in their life stories. The questions I provide, I hope, will motivate them to dig deeper in finding the answers that will round out the “picture” they leave family and friends.
It’s not exactly like chasing fire engines so many decades ago – an activity that would be impossible in this far more crowded, faster-paced, seat-belt and car seat-driven civilization, but it’s still a hunt. And, bottom line: if you don’t blow your own horn, who will?
Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™.