Lucy Bisson of Lewiston wrote her husband’s obituary and plans to write her own. Bisson, who is president of the board of USM’s Lewiston-Auburn Senior College, plans to propose that the college offer a course on writing your own obituary. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — She isn’t planning on dying anytime else soon, but Lucy Bisson, 76, is thinking about writing her own obituary. After all, no one gets out of life alive.

Years ago, a friend of Bisson’s died, but not before writing her obituary.

“I thought it was a wonderful idea,” Bisson said. “And it made me think, ‘Jeez, my kids don’t know everything I’ve done.’”

Having the last word, or self-written obituaries, is a small but growing trend.

The Portland Public Library has offered a write-your-own obituary class. A senior college in Presque Isle offered the same kind of class in 2020, but the workshop was cancelled when coronavirus struck.

Bisson’s friend was Susan Donar, whose self-written obituary was full of life and gratitude to her sons and those close to her. She told her story the way she wanted it told.


Donar was a Lewiston-Auburn Senior College board member with Bisson. She endured a long illness and prepared for her death, said Bisson, who attended the woman’s celebration of her life gathering.

At that event a pre-recorded video of Donar speaking was played. At times it was funny, other times sad, Bisson said. Both in her video and obituary “she was very positive about her sons, significant others, her grandchild.”

It was inspiring, Bisson said. A good way to go.

Bisson, board president of the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn Senior College, wants the senior college to offer a class on how to author your own obit, and plans to bring the suggestion to the curriculum committee.

Nationally a few hilarious self-written obits have been written about by the New York Times and other media outlets. The authors turned their deaths into ways of saying goodbye. Others have conveyed personal, heartfelt messages.

On Feb. 16, the Sun Journal published an obituary of Lorrie Meserve Callaway who wrote it before she died.


“If you are reading this obituary, you know I’m no longer with you,” Callaway wrote. She said she was exhausted with her six-year battle with cancer. Born in Lewiston in 1957 and a graduate of Edward Little High School, she wrote that her son was “the best gift I was ever given.”

Her passion was teaching, Callaway said, adding she loved walking, traveling, camping, kayaking, being with family and friends. Callaway asked people to hug their loved ones, make happy memories, keep on smiling and donate to The Dempsey Center in lieu of flowers.


Lucy Bisson of Lewiston wrote her husband’s obituary. Normand Bisson passed away in 2012. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Too often families are stumped about what to include in their loved one’s obit, said Kristin Melville, former director of marketing for Androscoggin Home Healthcare and Hospice in Lewiston.

When her mother-in-law died six years ago, the obituary “had no substance to who she was,” Melville said.

Things were different when her own mother was dying and authored her obit. It was a heartbreaking act. “She was reading it to me,” Melville said. “It was the saddest thing ever. She wanted to get the record straight,” including her love of art, her nursing career, what she liked.


After her mother’s death, when the obituary — complete with the photo her mother chose — was published in the newspaper, her mother’s words provided Melville with comfort.

“I’m so glad she did it. I was proud of her,” she said. “People remarked on all the things she did.”

Melville recently moved from Lewiston to her hometown of Jamestown, New York, where her life took an unexpected turn. Melville’s husband died from a sudden heart attack.

“I knew that I was the only person who could write his obituary,” she said. “I experienced first-hand how challenging this can be for loved ones. It took me nearly eight hours to write it.”

While dealing with the shock and sadness of losing her husband, Melville had to make several calls to relatives, find old resumes, and go through a box of his diplomas to put together the obituary. “I understood the importance. This would be the last time his name and life story would ever appear in print,” Melville said. “Like my mother, I wanted to get it just right.”

Melville said she’ll be among those writing their own end-of-life story. “Boomers, we’re the type who want to leave a legacy.”



Jean Berman, a chaplain who until a few months ago spent part of her time in Lewiston, has guided others in writing their own obituaries.  Submitted photo

Jean Berman, who as a chaplain works with hospice volunteers in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, has shared with others how to write their own obituary.

Historically, before the Civil War it was important to family members to ensure loved ones had a good death, said Berman. It used to be that families were involved with end-of-life care and with the funerals, which usually took place in their living rooms. As time went on, end-of-life practices moved to professionals and away the family, she said.

“We have been a death-phobic culture,” Berman said. But that is slowly changing.

Nationwide, there’s a “death positive movement,” said Berman. “I hear from individuals and organizations all the time. More boomers are claiming death as a part of life.”

Berman said the advantages of writing your obituary are several.


“This is an opportunity to say in your own voice what is meaningful to you,” she said, noting that reading an obituary written by the deceased often provides even comfort to survivors than a traditional obituary.

Writing it in your own voice means “you can be funny,” she said.

And it allows you to share a life lesson with those you leave behind. “You can have an effect on other people.”

Writing your own obituary can also be therapeutic for the writer, Berman said, prompting reflection on what’s most important, such as the joy of everyday things. In a sad but important way, it reminds the person that at some point, they will no longer be able to gaze at the sunset, ponder the shape of clouds or share a hug.

When thinking about death, “our senses can be heightened. It makes life more vivid,” she said.

When pretending death will never happen “we hold death at arm’s length and miss the beauty and wonder.”


Berman said she has officiated at both weddings and funerals. She prefers funerals.

Weddings sometimes focus on the perfect dress, the perfect flowers or the perfect table setting.

Funerals tend to be more real, she said, honoring the person who has passed and sometimes feeling one’s own mortality.

“There can be a depth of rawness, of feeling, of being human, rather than a focus on wanting things to be just right,” she said.

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