Utah Man’s Self-Penned Obituary: Lessons We Can Learn

An obituary written by a 59 year old Utah man who died of throat cancer has gone viral.  Apparently in his obit, Val Patterson, spoke sweetly of a well-lived life and expressed his undying love for his wife who watched and cared for him as his cancer drained him.  But, Patterson also used his obit to expose his biting humor and to reveal some little known secrets about himself according to reporter A.J. Willingham of (see Willingham’s full story here).

I guess that Patterson let the world and his colleagues believe that he held a PhD from University of Utah. Yet in his obit, he admitted that it was the result of a filing error made by a receptionist who collected his college loan payment.  He apologized to all the electrical engineers with whom he worked and in his defense pointed out that his designs were well engineered and that he made everyone laugh at work.

While there are many touches of humor throughout, it’s Patterson’s expressions to his wife that are particularly touching.  He revealed his regret that he felt invincible when he was young and that he smoked cigarettes that, in the end, robbed his “beloved Mary Jane of a decade or more of the two of us growing old together and laughing at all the thousands of simple things that we have come to enjoy and fill our lives with such happy words and moments.”

When I saw Patterson’s story it made me think about my own mortality and what my obituary might one day look like. Now, I’m not saying that I’m planning on sitting down sometime soon to write my own obit. But, I do know that I have taken the time to explain to my loved ones what my own personal wishes are about how I’d like my life celebrated after I’m gone. And, I’ve done so in writing.

You see, I have very particular views about how I want to be treated after I die. And, I know that those views might not necessarily be shared by everyone in my close family.  So it’s imperative that I express those views in writing while I’m alive so that those left behind will have to follow them when I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

Believe it or not, that’s what I advise clients whom I see when they are doing their estate planning. Let’s face it, doing the legal planning for your demise is a somewhat morbid topic. But, it’s a lot more than just deciding who’s going to get your house and who’s going to get your cash when you’re gone.

I think that there’s an element of memorializing your legacy. Creating something that people will remember you by.  Val Paterson knew that he was succumbing to his throat cancer and he had the foresight to write that legacy down. We can learn a lot from Mr. Paterson about living life and leaving a legacy.