The Power of an Obituary

I recently wrote two obituaries, which I published for Halloween (see my Halloween 2021 blog).  One was for the person I used to be, and the other for the person I hope to become. The latter was just goal setting, which is important, but the former proved to be a truly revealing and helpful exercise.

Obituaries focus on the positive aspects of a person’s life. One tries not to speak ill of the dead. Writing it for “J,” my former self, as if she were a stranger, set me on a journey that helped me reconnect to the person I had been before decades of mental, physical, fiscal and emotional abuse ground me down and convinced me that I was ugly, unlovable, useless, and unworthy of anything good in life, including basic, human kindness and minimal consideration. It also revealed to me a shocking truth that may, perhaps, be obvious to some, but that I had not realized before now. More importantly, I think what I learned could be useful to others.

I started the exercise doubting that I could find anything nice to say about J. I didn’t hate her. It was much worse than that. I pitied her. I had come to believe all the things my parents, my brother, and especially my husband and his parents, and even some of my own children had ever expressed about how useless, unlovable, unwanted, doomed to failure J was and had always been. I knew she had sincerely meant well, been truly, deeply loving, faithful, honest, hard-working and determined, and had always given her best to everyone around her, but obviously her best had proved worthless, just as everyone she had ever loved had said it was. How could I possibly find enough good in such a pitiful failure of a person to write an obituary for her?

I applied to life-long, though now distant friends, including some with whom I had reconnected since the divorce, asking what they remembered about me during the active years of our friendships. To my surprise they described a person completely different than the awful one my loved ones had convinced me I was. When I asked one person to comment on my worst faults, which I could easily list, I was shocked that she didn’t recognize many of those faults as applying to me. She reminded me of events we had shared together where I had naturally behaved in ways that refuted what I had just described, establishing my consistent patterns of behavior as, in some ways, exactly opposite to what I had come to believe about myself.

One of the faults my husband and children had berated me for so often it had practically become a mantra in our family was that I was “tactless.” One friend provided examples of when she felt I had been the opposite, including from earlier in that very conversation. Another friend agreed that this criticism was probably valid, pointing out that I was a “truth-teller” and adding that the truth would always be badly received by those who didn’t want it, no matter how kindly or diplomatically it was stated. With that one phrase she turned what had always been my most frustrating fault – one that I had striven with all my might to correct and had failed – into a virtue. It also made me consider (especially in light of more recent evidence) that perhaps my “tactlessness” had never been how I said things, but rather was the response of my loved ones toward me daring to speak at all. Certainly my husband and his parents had always hated me for that and many of the others had told me, since the divorce, when I started sharing more of my personal experiences and observations with others outside the family, that I should just shut up and tell no one anything at all about myself, ever. I hadn’t realized it then, but I wonder, now, if it is because they were aware of how truly abusive their behavior toward me was. I was, at that point, still believing their cruelty toward me was normal behavior and deserved by me. As I am starting to reconnect with others outside my family after the divorce, however (as in this exercise, for instance), I am learning that the way I had been treated was NOT normal, nor could it be considered acceptable under any circumstances. My husband, my brother, and others almost certainly realized that fact, even though I still didn’t. Now I wonder if convincing me that I was offensive to others whenever I tried to say anything at all was a tactic to keep me silent about their abuse so they would not appear as bad as they knew they deserved to for the way they were treating me. It, at least, gives me something to consider.

Overall, my friends presented a new and very different view of me than I had ever known. For this part of the exercise, alone, it was worth the effort. Thank God for my kind, wonderful friends.

The next step, however, was to actually write the obituary. To do so, of course, I had to refer to my prior, now deceased self in third person. Just that simple grammar shift from “I” to “she”, which should have been insignificant, made a massive difference in my attitude that I had not expected.

Toward myself, I am generally harsh and probably far more critical than even the worst of my external critics has ever been, though, obviously, I was never as condescending or contemptuous. While everyone else knew that they were better than me (who in the world wasn’t?), I could not possibly be better than myself. Even so, I am quick to berate myself for every failure (of which there are too many) and every misspeak, every mistake, every accident, and every imperfection, no matter how slight. My successes and virtues are barely noted and can never be enough, but anything bad about me forces my attention as something I must examine thoroughly and remedy, causing me to fixate on my faults to such a degree that my faults seem to be everything about me with nothing good in me to compensate. It is an echo of what all my loved ones throughout my life have constantly told me about myself, except magnified. I now realize that I had internalized the external abuse and was carrying it with me wherever I went. (For a fuller discussion of this see my blog “Why and How I Became My Worst Abuser”)

Switching to third person caused me to think of my former self as someone other than myself. I was now writing about another person – one whom I could consider as a stranger. Suddenly J was no longer the person I had been raised to despise as someone deserving every cruelty and completely unworthy of any love or kindness. In third person, J became someone about whom I could be objective as I tried find something good that I could honestly say about her.

I am in the habit from childhood of trying to be encouraging and uplifting to others – to find what is good in them and to reflect it back so they could see the beauty in themselves that I see. I do this because of the profound impact it has had on me the few times in my life a stranger was kind enough to do this for me. There have been moments when it was practically life-saving. Once or twice I wondered if the stranger might have been an angel sent by God to give me the encouragement I desperately needed at that moment. It takes almost no effort to do and, knowing how important a kind word can be, it seems the least I can offer to repay the world for this kindness given to me. I rush to say honest praise while I try to avoid criticizing unless it is truly necessary. This habit, which I had never before applied to myself, suddenly kicked in when I switched to writing about my departed self in third person.

To my shock, I found that there was a lot of good in J. In fact, she was someone whom I would have really liked, even admired, and found truly worthy of love and friendship had she been anyone else besides me. All the while I was hating myself for my seemingly overwhelming faults, J was demonstrating quite a lot of outstanding qualities that I would have appreciated had she been anyone else. I had been eager to expel her from my life. Now I’m almost sorry she is gone. It made writing her obituary very easy.

So now I recognize the trap of writing and thinking in first person for a person taught from birth to hate herself. “I” becomes irrationally detestable, no matter what. I have learned that it is healthy to regularly look at oneself from a different perspective, in order to obtain a more objective and, hopefully, honest assessment of one’s self. For me this exercise of writing about myself in third person revealed the destructive tendency I had to focus on my faults to the exclusion of all else, even long after those who had seemed to demand impossible perfection from me, in order for me to hopefully become barely tolerable to them, are no longer a part of my life. From now on, when my external critics pile their condemnation on me and try to grind me down, as they continue to do regularly, I’ll set myself up as judge over Aoife and write a brief to see how much, if any, of the criticism of my loved ones is truly applicable to her. I know I won’t ever be perfect, but I’m growing increasingly sure I am not nearly as horrible as my loved ones have always insisted. I now have a tool to help me assess myself more fairly.

I share this with you, dear reader, in the hope that you might try out this exercise to see what it reveals to you about you. Of course you may not need it, but I imagine it would be useful to many different kinds of people in many different situations. If you are willing, I would love to hear what you learn.

Halloween 2021

Happy Halloween!

To help you celebrate this American cultural event, which makes a party out of facing our deepest fears, I’m sharing some of the spooky short stories I’ve written over the years. The links are below. If you want to see a note about each story, you can access them through the “Spooky Stories” page. Enjoy!

Dark Friend

Spirit Nonsense


Jimmy Roe’s Big, Black Dog


Forgotten Dead

This blog is my fresh start. It seems fitting, however, to begin my new life with a goodbye to my old life. I have legally changed my name and consider myself, in a fundamental way, a new person. I have therefore written an obituary for my old self, whom I will call “J.”

Rest in Peace J

Obituary for J

J, beloved by no one, passed away last July, without those she loved noticing. She leaves behind five children but no mourners. There will be no funeral nor memorial for this woman who is already forgotten and will not be missed by anyone within her family.

J was born and raised in a middle class family in Southern California. She was an honors/AP student throughout school, earning top grades and awards. Her passion was singing, dancing and acting. She was constantly active in community and college theater. Her most notable roles were as Lady MacBeth in Shakespeare’s famous play, including in a production at Stirling University in Scotland. She lived in many states within the United States of America, and in Scotland, UK. She also traveled in many other countries. She was the author of several short stories and the award-winning “The Shaman’s Apprentice” series, under the pen name B. Muze. Having given life to five children, she served them not only as a loving, involved, devoted mother but also as their homeschool teacher and Girl Scout leader.

Though preceded in death by her parents, J is remembered by friends for her positivity, her optimism, her honesty, her kindness, her instinctive compassion, and her empathy. She drove herself toward excellence, with fierce determination and discipline, earning two Bachelor degrees, Comparative Literature and Drama, and an unofficial minor in writing from a prestigious university, while working her way through college. She went on to support her mother through a period of financial difficulty, then, later, she supported her husband in law school and afterward, until her husband demanded she become a stay-at-home mother.

Though some claim her abilities to laugh at herself, easily acknowledge her mistakes, and strive to correct them, were her greatest virtues, her oldest friend identified J’s most outstanding quality as her insistence on always seeing the best in others. This proved also to be her greatest fault, trapping her in an abusive marriage and losing her the love and respect of her children, whom she failed to protect from their father and his parents. Her commitment to honesty blinded her to the lies of others. Her unfailing loyalty and trustworthiness rendered her incapable of anticipating any betrayal. Her innate kindness made every evil unimaginable to her, leaving her unprepared for her marriage. In the end, she proved too naïve to survive.

She was, from birth, a deeply spiritual lover of God. We therefore entrust her to God, in the hope that the potential she failed to realize in this life may not be lost to our world forever.


In comparison, the following is the obituary I hope to earn. It sets a few, modest goals for myself. Since it hasn’t yet happened, all quotes are, of course, fictional, but I hope when I am finally done, there will be masses of people eager to testify to similar things about me.

Obituary for Aoife Aylya Mayze

Aoife Aylya Mayze passed in peace this morning at her home in *******, surrounded by dear friends and family. She was 125 years old and in excellent health until the end. She is survived by her loving husband, her 3 daughters and 2 sons, her 7 step-children, 16 grandchildren, and 23 great-grandchildren.

Best known to the public by her pen and stage names, Aylya Mayze and 2AMayze, she has been an Emmy and Academy award winning actress and writer, and bestselling, award-winning author. In 2017 she founded Wittily Writ Publishing, which had a profound impact on world-wide culture by bringing to us extraordinary, difficult to classify works, that had been commonly rejected by mainstream publishers in the past. These boundary-stretching works, primarily literary at first, expanded over time to include multi-sensory and interactive experiences, stretching the limits of our imaginations. Among the authors Wittily Writ promoted to prominence were B. Muze, whose best-selling series, “Jovai” and “Firebird,” Aoife edited, herself, then helped bring to screen in the Academy Award Winning and blockbuster series of films, and Anderson Kenyak, the somewhat controversial but always wacky and hilarious novelist and performance artist.  Aoife also published over 30 novels of her own, including “Mistress of Calistar” and “Majtega Maiden,” which both became Emmy award winning mini-series, and “The Escape of Motley’s Rose,” which was made into a hit musical on both stage and in film. Her novel, “Constantly Catherine,” loosely based on her first marriage, not only delighted readers with its wit and humor, but also expanded our understanding of such serious issues as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, spousal abuse, and child abuse. It is credited with inspiring needed reforms in divorce and custody laws and generally improving public understanding and compassion for those trapped in abusive relationships.

Above all else, her favorite accomplishment was the Step-Up Communities she founded world-wide. These not only sheltered the homeless, destitute, abused and lost, but also, through education and opportunities in a safe, secure environment, helped them raise themselves out of poverty and, in many cases, into tremendous success.

“Aylya encouraged and uplifted everyone around her,” said Marcus Niege, Founder and CEO of OS and a graduate of her Step Up program.  “She made it easy to believe in, then to do, what seemed impossible at first.”

“She never lost faith in me,” Bonny Tuffet proclaimed in her acceptance speech for her Nobel Prize, “even when I couldn’t find any reason to keep living. During the darkest period of my life, she was my light, my connection to God, until I could find it again inside myself. But it wasn’t just me, it was all of us. She loved and inspired everyone.”

Kanya Frank, former director of Doctors Without Borders, founder of MAMD, and former graduate of the Step-Up Community, wrote in her biography, “Aoife had survived things as bad as what we were facing, and she blessed God constantly for those experiences, partly because it helped her better know what she could do to help us. She recognized no reason for shame in failing or suffering because, to her, a full life always included both ups and downs. It was only normal. It meant the bad times would never last. Success was always just ahead while failure was nothing but a valuable learning experience. She would say that she loved praise, but she needed criticism – praise made her feel better, but constructive criticism helped her actually become better. It was the same with good times and hard times. Good times were wonderful, but it was challenges that stretched her, strengthened her, and forced her to grow. She believed one could always turn the bad to good, and she always had faith that we would. She inspired me to reach farther, work harder, and accomplish far more than I ever thought possible. That’s what her Step-Up Communities were about. She wasn’t doing for us, but encouraging us to do for ourselves, because we could. We were all worthy and wonderful in her eyes, even before we had realized our potential. Actually, I can imagine her chiding me for saying that as if our potential were a finite thing. She made us believe the truth that we all had infinite potential, if we only dared pursue it.”

“Mom was a deeply loving person. She loved people, children, animals, music, laughter, art, nature…the list of who and what she loved is endless, but the list of all she hated was short: injustice and cruelty. Well, she wasn’t a big fan of sardines on pizza either.” – ********, daughter.

With unfailing kindness and a sense of humor that delighted even in her own folly, Aoife Aylya Mayze once described her lifestyle as “a celebration of both God and humanity, and I’m the one dancing with a lampshade on my head.” We are grateful to have known her and look forward to meeting her again, as God wills.