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Reading my obituary changed my life

My impending death didn't change, but the life I had left did.

Photo of Molly Oberholtzer
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

This idea is designed for those who know that death is imminent, and their loved ones. Using the scaffolding of a current system (obituaries) it adds a panegyric, a pre-death announcement of impending death. This is a simple change that most prominently empowers the person dying. Nobel changed his MO. Knowing others share your feelings, your pain, your experience, can be comforting alone. Having a formal statement, publicly celebrating your life, could be the new tradition we need.

Obituaries are important, and respectful ways to alert of people passing. I am not suggesting we remove the notice that people have passed. I am suggesting that we add a stage, pre-death, to the obituary. Something more like a panegyric, a tribute, to a flame that is going out. 

We have been innovating on obituary services recently ( for example. This serves the grieving. What about the person dying. Do they not deserve a celebration of their life? They do of course, but maybe they say no, or maybe they don't want to make a fuss, or let people see them as they die. The current obituary format is good, but a simple switch from post- to pre-death could make a world of difference. One famous example of potential impact of such change is the story of Alfred B. Nobel. He created the Nobel Prizes when he realized he would be remembered for something he didn't want to be remembered for. While this is extreme, (he wasn't dying, is was a newspaper accidentally writing his obituary when his brother died) he was clearly empowered with this chance to re-frame his life. He reflected on life anew. He reflected on himself.

Every person dying who reads their obituary won't make the new Nobel Prizes. But they will know what they meant to their loved ones, their community. They will skip the awkward "Hey, how are you? I'm dying." conversation, and maybe a long-lost friend will revisit them to reminisce or reconcile old grudges. Maybe not. These are just things that could occur thanks to a small change in an old, traditional system. Simply having a ready-built platform, a ritual stage in a painful process, that lets people both celebrate the life of their loved one, and notify the community, is so much more respectful. 

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Interview families / those dying and ask about how they notified people.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

This experiment is way to controversial to do in a commercial establishment, so I would ask for the OpenIDEO community to help me here.
• Throw a halloween party. (Or Dia de los Muertos, etc)
• Make a fake newspaper obituary section, filled with living, healthy, invitees.
• Request that RSVP's included your own obituary, written by a loved one.
• Have fun with it.
Input please:
Are obituaries a cultural universal? Are their cultural norms that are related that would help inform this?

Tell us about your work experience:

I work in design for e-learning lessons for teachers, and act as "go-to" person for my grandmother.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Inspired by (1)

Rituals & legacy


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld

Molly, I really like your idea.  I'm wondering if there's any way it might be incorporated into another idea that was posted (Deathday, ).  Seems like they're well-suited for each other!

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