Roy Exum: She Wrote Her Own Obituary

Monday, September 9, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

During my lifetime I have written a number of obituaries for my close colleagues and dearest friends. I have also helped many families remember loved ones with hopefully the right words. When my day comes, I hope to write my own, as well as a number of obituaries that certain friends have requested if, indeed, I don’t “go first.”

There is nothing morbid or gross about writing a death notice. While it isn’t anything you get excited about or ever want to do, there are some obituaries that turn into gorgeous tributes, and not long ago I read a very beautiful “auto-obituary.” It was penned by an accomplished writer in Seattle, the late Jane Lotter, and was published in the Seattle Times a day or two after her death, this, as her ashes were gently being scattered across the waters of her beloved Elliott Bay.

Jane, 60, was first diagnosed with uterine cancer in early 2010. She underwent three separate and grueling courses of treatment, losing her hair twice, and in the spring of this year (as the last survivor of her cancer support group) she realized the endometrial cancer was advanced and the end was near. Ever game, she told her family that she was going to write her obituary and one of her daughters, Tessa said soundly, “Of course you are!”

An article that appeared about Jane’s obituary in the New York Times a couple of weeks after she died on July 18, told the pitfall of writing your own final words: “The good part about writing it yourself is that you know the material best and get the final word on your life. On the other hand, a poorly-written obituary would be a disastrous legacy for a writer,” the article revealed.

Before I share her last words with you – and I was blessed by them – I need to tell you exactly how Jane Lotter chose to die. In the state of Washington, there is a widely-acclaimed law called the Death With Dignity Act ,that personally, I believe, is absolutely wonderful. On July 18, with her husband, daughter, son and other family members around the bed, Jane listened to Gershwin’s “Lullaby” for the last time, then hugged and kissed her family.

She then took a vial of powdered barbiturates – legally supplied by Hospice – and poured the contents into a glass of grape juice. After drinking the mixture, almost immediately she lapsed into a coma and died in a short time. Her husband explained, “Suicide is the opposite of how Jane saw her life. She loved life. She just didn’t want to end up like a fish flopping on a dock.”

Knowing when the right time to drink the cocktail is hard. “It is tricky,” said her husband. The law states clearly the terminal patient must mix and drink the concoction under their own power. “Some people wait too long and slip into a coma,”  he explained, respecting and supporting his wife’s wish to die with dignity. Put me down as one who is in favor of such a personal decision.

That said, this is the obituary that Jane Lotter wrote as she died and has since touched thousands around the country:

* * *

One of the few advantages of dying from Grade 3, Stage IIIC endometrial cancer, recurrent and metastasized to the liver and abdomen, is that you have time to write your own obituary. (The other advantages are no longer bothering with sunscreen and no longer worrying about your cholesterol.) To wit:

I was born in Seattle on August 10, 1952, at Northgate Hospital (since torn down) at Northgate Mall. Grew up in Shoreline, attended Shorecrest High, graduated from the University of Washington in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts in History. Aside from eight memorable months lived in New York City when I was nineteen (and where I worked happily and insouciantly on the telephone order board for B. Altman & Co.), I was a lifelong Seattle resident.

In my professional life, I was a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. Among career honors, I received a First Place Society of Professional Journalists award for Humorous Writing for my column Jane Explains, which ran from 1999-2005 in the Jet City Maven, later called The Seattle Sun. Also won First Place in the Mainstream Novel category of the 2009 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest for my comic novel, The Bette Davis Club (available at Amazon.com). I would demonstrate my keen sense of humor by telling a few jokes here, but the Times charges for these listings by the column inch and we must move on.

Many thanks to Sylvia Farias, MSW, at Swedish Cancer Institute for encouraging me to be part of an incredibly wise gynecological cancer support group. Thanks as well to the kind-hearted nurses and doctors at Group Health Capitol Hill oncology. And thanks to my sister Barbara who left no stone unturned in helping me get life-extending treatment in my final months.

I also want to thank Mrs. Senour, my first grade teacher, for teaching me to read. I loved witty conversation, long walks, and good books. Among my favorite authors were Iris Murdoch (particularly The Sea, The Sea) and Charles Dickens.

I was preceded in death by my generous and loving parents, Michael Gallagher Lotter and Margaret Anne Lotter (nee Robertson), and by my dear younger sister, Julie Marie Lotter. I am survived by my beloved husband, Robert ("Bob") Lee Marts, and our two adult children: daughter, Tessa Jane Marts, and son, Riley William Marts. Also my dear sisters Barbara Lotter Azzato, Kathleen Nora Lahti, and Patricia Anne Crisp (husband Adrian). And many much-loved nieces and nephews, in-laws, and friends.

I met Bob Marts at the Central Tavern in Pioneer Square on November 22, 1975, which was the luckiest night of my life. We were married on April 7, 1984. Bobby M, I love you up to the sky. Thank you for all the laughter and the love, and for standing by me at the end. Tessa and Riley, I love you so much, and I'm so proud of you. I wish you such good things. May you, every day, connect with the brilliancy of your own spirit. And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path.

I believe we are each of us connected to every person and everything on this Earth, that we are in fact one divine organism having an infinite spiritual existence. Of course, we may not always comprehend that. And really, that's a discussion for another time. So let's cut to the chase:

I was given the gift of life, and now I have to give it back. This is hard. But I was a lucky woman, who led a lucky existence, and for this I am grateful. I first got sick in January 2010. When the cancer recurred last year and was terminal, I decided to be joyful about having had a full life, rather than sad about having to die. Amazingly, this outlook worked for me. (Well, you know, most of the time.) Meditation and the study of Buddhist philosophy also helped me accept what I could not change. At any rate, I am at peace. And on that upbeat note, I take my mortal leave of this rollicking, revolving world -- this sun, that moon, that walk around Green Lake, that stroll through the Pike Place Market, the memory of a child's hand in mine.

My beloved Bob, Tessa, and Riley. My beloved friends and family. How precious you all have been to me. Knowing and loving each one of you was the success story of my life. Metaphorically speaking, we will meet again, joyfully, on the other side.

Beautiful day, happy to have been here.

XOXO, Jane/Mom

royexum@aol.com


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