Stoics meditated on death all the time. In fact, many made it a daily practice. Why? Because it’s coming. The idea is to get everything out of life that you can, knowing just how finite it is. The last thing anyone wants is to be full of regret at the end.
Memento Mori is a Latin phrase meaning, “Remember that you die” and an ancient practice of reflection on mortality, often represented by a skull.
Two of the most famous Stoics sum it up perfectly:
“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” – Seneca
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” – Marcus Aurelius
Have you ever thought about dying? Most of us don’t make it a practice as the Stoics did. I started a similar practice after my first child was born in 2018. The finite nature of our existence became a starker reality when my brother died in 2020.
I want you to think about dying right now.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Writing an obituary
- Writing your obituary
- The way forward
Let’s get started.
Writing an obituary
Have you ever written an obituary? I had the horror and honor of writing my brothers. And then I wrote and delivered his eulogy- It was one of the hardest and most serious things I’ve ever done.
Since I didn’t know how to do it, I started by researching the format. Here’s standard version:
[Full name], [age], of [place of residence], passed away on [date of death] after a [cause of death].
[First name] was born on [date of birth] to [parents] in [birthplace]. After [name] graduated from [name of high school] in [year], [he/she] went on to study [college major] at [college name].
After graduating with a degree in [field], [he/she] started [his/her] first job at [company name] as a [job title], kickstarting a [number] year career in [field].
In [year], [name] met [spouse’s name] at [location]. [Deceased’s name] and [spouse’s name] went on to have [number of children] children, [list of children’s names].
In [year], [first name] retired and spent [his/her] time [list favorite activities and hobbies].
[First name] was predeceased by [list of family members who have passed away]. [She/He] is survived by [list of family members who are still alive].
Services will be held at [location] on [date] at [time]. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to [cause], an organization [name] felt strongly about.
When it came to his eulogy, I didn’t follow any format. I wanted to make it a celebration of his life, and to be an honest account. It was important to call out some of the best stuff, and to remember some of the bad. I needed to talk about the people who were most important to him, and who he was most important to. And to share the same about his experiences.
Writing your obituary
Writing an obituary is one thing. Writing your obituary is another thing entirely.
If your life ended on your 100th birthday, what would you want your obituary read?
There’s not a right or wrong way to do this. Be as honest as you can be. This exercise is designed to set the tone for the rest of your life- no pressure.
- How did you make the world a better place?
- How and why will people remember you?
- Who were you?
- What did you stand for? What did you stand against?
- Who did you have the greatest impact on? Who will miss you the most?
- Write your epitaph. Epitaphs are meant to tell a story about the deceased person in a couple of paragraphs at most.
The way forward
Are you on track for that? If yes, great! If not, how far off track are you?
What would the 100 year-old version of you say to this current version of you? What needs to change?
In terms of your behaviors, does that the ideal version of do what you do? Do they have the same diet as you? Exercise the same way? Dink as much as you do? Spend as much time staring at screens as you do ? Spend money the way you do? Have the same kinds of relationships you do? Do they spend their attention on the same things you do?
Start living the life that will culminate in that obituary.
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