The story of Val Patterson has captured a lot of attention despite being bittersweet. After he was diagnosed with throat cancer and knew it would be fatal, Patterson wrote his own obituary and used it as an opportunity to express his joy with life and confess some wrongdoings. The obituary, released after his death, surprised people close to him.
Among the confessions, Patterson said he never earned his Ph.D. He received the diploma after an accidental student loan mixup and never corrected the mistake. Specifically, he said the girl working there had put his receipt in the wrong stack and the diploma arrived two weeks later, even though he had never graduated from college.
After the obituary went viral the Starks Funeral Parlor server where it was published crashed. The server is back online and the self-written Patterson obituary can be found here.
Although the confession is what attracted the traffic, some of the most memorable wisdom Patterson had to offer is timeless. He put mortality into perspective.
My regret is that I felt invincible when young and smoked cigarettes when I knew they were bad for me. Now, to make it worse, I have robbed my 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.
“What caught everyone’s attention was that he lied, but what holds everyone’s attention is that he reminds us how to live,” says Randy Sutton, president of Celebrating Legacy. “We all make choices in life, but rarely do those choices affect only us. Although Patterson warns people away from smoking specifically, it could be associated with any unhealthy life choice, something as common as a diet or dangerous as drugs. With the exception of unavoidable catastrophes, the choices we make can rob our friends and families too.”
Reactions to the various stories are mixed. Some people took his confession to be cavalier. Others thought it was refreshing despite one confession that included the theft of a motel safe in 1971.
Why writing your own obituary is an act of love.
“Some people look at his obituary and attempt to judge the life he lived and others judge the act,” said Sutton. “When I read the obituary, I tend to look at the latter. Having had to write obituaries for people in my family, I can attest to the fact that it is one of the most painful processes anyone is expected to endure. It was one of several catalysts that convinced me to start this project and why it is taking some time to get it right.”
Sutton believes, regardless of the content, that self-written obituaries are the best opportunity to share something for those who are left behind. It removes the burden from loved ones who are coping with the loss and gives those closest an opportunity to hear the “voice” of the person lost one more time.
“There is no question in my mind that those closest to Patterson were comforted by his confession and that it helped them find resolution faster,” said Sutton. “I think it is great that some funeral homes offer the service, and we really look forward to opening up something with less time and space constraints.”
Sutton said that for the people who were put off by the obituary, he felt that Patterson did a fine job at not glamorizing his wrongdoings. If anything, it reminds everyone that the choices you make are ultimately how you will be remembered, both good and bad.
In other words, he said, everyone can do themselves a favor by living the legacy they hope to leave behind. It’s a concept that he still uses today as a teaching tool, which you can read about in his article The Integrity Of A Personal Legacy.