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How one writer’s self-written obituary leaves a legacy

As a journalist, I had the opportunity to write a number of obituaries, including several for people who had gained notoriety for their standing in the community, accomplishments, or circumstances of their deaths. I always felt it was an honor to be able to tell these people’s stories.

Everyone has a story to tell, and obituaries are one way to share the essence of a person’s life. Obituaries become part of a community and a family’s history. As one who loves the power of words and the meaning they can impart, I was touched by the self-written obituary of Seattle editor and writer Jane Catherine Lotter, who in her final written words shared details of her life, her family, and her philosophy. Lotter died July 18, and her obituary was published in the The Seattle Times on July 28.

“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.”

Lotter also named her favorite authors. “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.”

Lotter had always loved to write. Her writing included jingles for a greeting card company, a weekly humor column in the now defunct Jet City Maven. Her most recent work was a comic novel, The Bette Davis Club, which she published shortly before her death. The novel won First Place in the Mainstream Novel category of the 2009 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest.

Read Lotter’s full obituary at the Seattle Times, and a story with more details about Lotter and her life at the New York Times.

If what we do as writers is meant in part to leave a legacy, Lotter certainly fulfilled that promise with her life and her final words.

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