Trolling The Obits, Or, What Will Your Legacy Be?


I have always been fascinated with the obituary section of the paper.  Not for the morbid details (although I admit I do look for the cause of death, but most are too genteel to include it – probably to stop guys like me trolling the obits).  Nonetheless, I am intrigued by the lives that these now deceased led.  Most of the people listed are of an advanced age, or have been in advanced stages of life threatening illnesses.  There is an expectation that life will end sooner than later for these folks.  But of course there are the tragic listings – children, young men and women in the military, victims of horrible acts, etc.  But there is always a story.


That is what I like to read – the short, condensed life bullets – the Coles Notes of mortality in Times New Roman 12 point type.  The lines and spaces between the words that convey emotion behind the script.  Who wrote the obituary?  What frame of mind were they in?  How long did it take to write it?

Silly questions of course, but to me add to the story.

Now, I have read the obits of alcoholics as well – those who passed on through illness, suicide or neglect.  Oh, it may not say that on the page, but it is often felt through the feel of the paper itself at times.  There is a sense that while the death certificate doesn’t state  “alcoholism” as cause of death per se, it’s alcoholism that has driven that passing on.  Of course, I will never know the whole story to many of these, but I always get the sense of pain through these quickly-typed recaps of tragedy.  One can almost smell the fresh dirt, whisky and sour decay coming up from the newsprint.


Which brings me to a simple question:

What will my legacy be?

I am not sure, to be honest.  What will it be, or what do I want it to be?  They can be the same thing, or diametrically opposed.  I opt for the former, as I am on a spiritual journey, and am not interested in having a life that is buried before I am.

There is a famous quote that goes “Plant a tree, write a book, have a child”.  My dad used to tell me that when I was younger.  A way to leave your legacy behind, he noted.  I understood the actual idea behind it – passing on a name, leaving behind some written work and ensuring a place to hide in the shade when you’re older.  But I didn’t really understand the unconscious stamping of our life onto others until I started my recovery.  In fact, I am just understanding it now.

I write.  I have always written.  Short stories, started a novel.  Never published, but then again, don’t know how hard I tried (alcoholism isn’t kind to writers, regardless of the romanticizing of it we often see or imagine).  Regardless, I write this blog now, and plan to write something concrete…something tactile to hold in your hand. I don’t know what, though.  I also have two children.  One biological and one through adoption – both born of love through different channels.  Plant a tree?  Not done yet.  Took one down the other day because of redoing the foundation.  Perhaps I need to plant two now.  But not sure if I will get to the arboreal manifestation of this sentiment in my lifetime. But I can try.


So once again, what is my legacy going to be?

I can list the nuts and bolts, the genealogical basics – father, husband, uncle, brother, son, etc. I can also get into the stream of pastimes and work.  I can also edit out the Old Life stuff – liar, cheater, thief, alcoholic, manipulator, antagonist, victim.  But what do I want for the other space, the space left for loved ones to fill out?

Here are some questions I need to ask myself:

What am I doing to imprint my life onto the souls of others?  

What I am showing to others that can only be exhibited through love and action rather than words?

What compassion for life and the lives of others am I building and demonstrating?

What’s the measure of my life being held up against and with what instrument?

What gifts of the Creator have I been able to share and exhaust out to others?


And realize this is not about what people would say at the funeral or some exercise in post-mortem ego boosting.  This is about what what we have passed on, what we were known for, what murmurs have we placed into the spirits of those who carry our message, our hopes, our dreams?  What are they actually passing on to others?

I guess these are the things that occur to me when I sit and read the paper, or watch another alcoholic waste away, or when I ride my bicycle past the hospitals down on University Ave. I think about it when I play with my children, or see my parents getting just that much older, or when I catch my own gaze in a reflection.  I reflect in that reflection.

In the end I don’t know what my legacy will be.  I certainly have hopes and dreams, but I am still watching and waiting as they unveil themselves to me.  I definitely want to be know for X, Y and Z, but allow it to play out to a different level.  There is always something new on the horizon for me.  I just don’t know right now.


How about you?

What is YOUR legacy?  What do you want it to be?

Let me know – share it here.

I’m really interested in hearing from you.

20 Comments Add yours

  1. Chelsie @ thedrycork says:

    For a long time, the most important thing to me was success. More than anything, I wanted people to remember me for how hard I worked and how well I did, and what I earned from that success. I was very materialistic and very shallow and as I discovered, a very unhappy person. Although I kept my corporate career, I trained to be a yoga teacher and opened my own studio. This process had a profound effect on how I saw myself, and others. I didn’t want opinions of others to reflect my value as a person anymore, I wanted to love and value myself, and I wanted that to be enough. Through this process of self-discovery, I’ve started to realize who I want to be and how I want to leave my mark on this world. I want to be a loving, caring, selfless and accepting. I want to be an open book and help others feel comfortable in their own skin. I want to be positive. I want to be light.

    1. I loved this, Chelsie. You really hit home some things here that I think is universal to many of us – that shallowness that comes with the material, when really what we crave is a connection with others and something deeper. Self love and value go a long way in our happiness.

      You ARE light and positivity. At least, to me here you are 🙂

      Thank you.


  2. furtheron says:

    Thought provoking…

    Firstly I no longer generally read the obits – I used to be almost obsessive about it when I was a drinker. In the rehab I went to there was little contact with the outside world, limited time in the day for phone calls, no radios or tv, we used to get newspapers and one counsellor found me one day raking through the obits. I was doing what I normally did – rant about some guy who until that day I’d never heard of and was complaining as to why his life was worthy of an obit in a national paper? The counsellor chuckled about it but then we had a serious conversation about it. Firstly it was about me (as ever) about my insecurity with my own success at life. He read through one about a diplomat who had died single after a divorce with no children – so this guy had done something during some conflict or other worthy of note and been knighted for it but the counsellor looked at me and said “You already have two kids, if the purpose of humanity is to continue the species you already out rank this guy”. He then pointed out – “If reading these make you angry or feel inadequate why not stop reading them?” Sound, solid, simple advice.

    But what of my legacy? Hmm, well yes the kids for a start one who is now already an adult and making his way in life and the other on that cusp of adolescence to adulthood.

    My music – might not be much but there it is, my creative output laid bare for the world, you never know I might still be the next big thing just my time hasn’t come yet… 😉

    I’m embarking on a career change and aim to train as a counsellor – I obviously hope that will lead to me having some kind of successful career in helping people achieve more with their lives. If I do achieve that then that will be a successful legacy.

    A dear old friend (ex drinking buddy) sadly died in a traffic accident many years back now, by then we were sadly estranged. However a few years before he paid me one of the greatest compliments ever. He stated that he felt he was a better person through simply having known me… unsolicited and said in a sober moment of his and mine – I treasure that comment and maybe it is true of some others I’ve rubbed against on my journey

    1. Wow Graham – such a wonderful response – thank you for taking such time and care with it.
      You have so much going on with you – and I see it in your blog as well. Certainly the music is something centers and excites you and is a creative outlet. Your baby, if you will, with the pros and cons that come with it.
      And I think counsellor is a great thing – we alcoholics are sensitive and hence compassionate and empathetic people. I think you would make a fantastic counsellor, Graham. Your children are lucky to have a father like you.


  3. I am thinking, I really wish I could gather my thoughts, dreams and ideas and write them down as eloquently and heart absorbingly wonderful as you articulate people can. I am thinking, there are things that I would like to be included in my obituary that as of yet have not manifested themselves in my life yet due mainly to my resistance and incompetence in attending to the necessary focuss and commitment involved. I am thinking I feel inadequate. I shall be Sixty later this year and I was thinking of asking Ten family members and friends to each write down Six things that they thought best described how they viewed me, or felt about me, good or bad and these would all be placed in a decorated glass jar then randomly read out on my birthday. Or is that just too weird? … anyhow, I am in awe of the spiritual depth and beauty with which you and others write Paul about your personal experiences with and with out the lure ethanol .Thank you. Would love to see your Novel published . Really enjoyed reading the response by * further on by the way* by the way.

    1. I love what you said about the people writing down their views of you. I think we should be gentle on ourselves and focus on the positive stuff 🙂 We have been through a lot (and of course put others through a lot as well) – putting notice on the negative sometimes isn’t the way to go. But the feeling of inadequacy is so common with us, and we need the skills and ways to look at things differently. That has been my struggle too. I think people see us differently compared to how we see ourselves. I think you would be pleasantly surprised to know how others see you.

      Thank you so much Bernadette for being here.


  4. sherryd32148 says:

    I know that part of your legacy will be this wonderful blog and all who are touched as they read it. No matter what else you do – that will live on in hearts for a long time to come.


    1. That’s very kind of you to say, Sherry 🙂

      We are blessed to read your writing too – I see it in how people react to you.

      Namaste (as you say)


  5. runningonsober says:

    This was really interesting Paul. I think often about my own mortality, and how fragile we and our world truly is. I’m at the age now where I am seeing all these names on tv of people dying and I think, “wha??? I remember watching him/her on tv growing up…”

    I like to think that I am just a ripple in a big pond of kindness, of good skillful karma. That because of the ripples before me, I can now ripple on to someone else, who will ripple out from there–like a domino in a chain or a vibrating chord on a harp.

    And I plant stuff too. 🙂 I just planted a couple of trees over the weekend, some Crape Myrtles, lots of flowers. I like to put a little beauty back in the world.

    Kindness and beauty, if those are my legacies, then I’m a-ok with that.

    (A novel or book, yes! Write on, Paul!)

    1. You certainly are a ripple in a big pond of kindness, Christy! I love the visual of the vibrating chord – that works for me 🙂

      Keep planting – we need those trees. And they need you.

      What beautiful and inspiring words…thank you so much for them.


  6. Oh Paul, this post is so beautiful, but, I cannot help but laugh. I was sitting down to write today’s post, and this is what popped onto my reader. You have to go over and read it, within the framework of what you have just written, and I think you will at least smile as well! We are in sync today, my friend!

    1. I did read it – great minds, eh?

  7. drizleslator says:

    I don’t care about leaving a legacy. I want to infect people here and now. I want to spread free and creative thinking amongst the people with whom I interact daily. I want to help people explore new corners of this world, to learn to express themselves creatively, and to wear chartreuse even though they don’t think they can pull it off, and to sign up for some kind of unusual class just because they have never tried doing that “crazy thing” before. I want to help people break out of their norm. Life should be fun.

    1. Hey – then THAT’s your legacy! Infecting everyone here and now – this is the kind of stuff people will remember you by. (I thought the line about chartreuse was pretty funny – but cool!) You are right about life needing to be fun. The legacy idea was more from a point of view of enjoying and reaping what life has to offer, rather than a morose and morbid reflection. You have listed so many of the things that I hope to achieve as well.

      Thank you for the wonderful comments!

      Love and light,

  8. Addiction is on legacy I don’t want to pass on to my children. My aim is to make sure that even if I don’t have much to leave in terms of physical possessions, I do leave them with a legacy of love and emotional security. Great post as always Paul!

  9. I worry about that too sometimes, Carolyn – leaving them the “bad” genes of addiction. Yikes. The best I can do is make sure they have the information to deal with their own issues when things arise, and to know that they have my support and love. I also don’t want to be known as “Paul, the drunk”. I have seen a few obits where they mention the person is a “friend of Bill W.” and that is fine with me.

    Your writings on your blog also leave a legacy, Carolyn – reaching much further than just your children. 🙂


  10. Awesome as always, Paul. Thanks for forcing me to think.
    Had to scratch some scalp over this one. I really don’t know what kind of legacy I want to leave behind. I mean, a huge unbearable void in people’s hearts because they miss me, is probably the most honest answer. But seeing it spelled out like that…it seems kind of selfish and self-centered. (rim shot off the snare drum,please)
    On the other hand, I don’t want news of my death to be received with too much indifference. Like when somebody tells you a celebrity has died, and it’s one you’ve thought died years ago. “Jack Palance? You don’t say. Hey, everybody, listen up!-I’m keeping the condiments for the burgers inside because of the flies.”
    I got a little taste of this when I began connecting with people from my past via social media. “I thought for sure you were dead,” they’d say. I’d scroll through their time-line and notice that at no point did they hurl themselves into a volcano out of grief.
    And that would kind of hurt my feelings.
    One time, when I was going through one of my homemade detoxes, and knew for sure this time I was going to die, I pictured my funeral. It was modest affair, with people over-using the word “potential” in the eulogies.
    I don’t want that word to ever be used when remembering me. “Off-the-charts bat-shit insane” Fine. Just not the P-word. “He had so much…”
    I also don’t want people to dance around my disease, with tamer-sounding euphemisms like you see in the obits. Yes, Paul, I troll them too. Mostly to see if I can find the alcoholic. “Liked music and to laugh with friends” always sets off my meter. I know what they really mean. I heard that sandwiched between all the talk about potential at my own funeral.
    Let’s face it, Paul, I am the underachiever in this friendship. No kids, no book, and no trees. And that’s okay. The one thing that I honestly can say, in terms of achievements, is that I have helped a few alcoholics stay sober. If only by distracting them with some well-placed antics. So they could make it to the next moment. The one where they don’t need a drink.
    It’s not much, but that’s got to be worth a few sniffles. Before they turn to the sports page.

    1. You’ll have to excuse the time it took me to get back to you on this one, dear friend. Sometimes I just have to let the comments soak in a while before I get typing. My reaction times are turtle like at best.

      I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with wanting those we love to miss us. yeah, cue the ego pump (next to the fog bank machine), but I think I would like to know that I made some sort of impact, yes? Or I am relegated to your Jack Palance reference (how cool was he, anyway?) I think we know what an alcoholic death would look like, and the reactions to that – you nailed that with the murmurs of what-could-haves punctuated with some tsk-tsk-ing. I would like to hope that when you leave this mortal coil, you will have some wailing and gnashing of teeth and perhaps some dramatic hair pulling to show just how much your big lug-ness is missed. Perhaps we will have a 21-taser salute to you. I will cater with a delicacy of Canadian fare like “hamburgers”, “milkshakes” and “lasagna”, Might throw in some maple syrup into the coffin.

      Well, I just got into another conversation there, didn’t I?

      Regardless, what you said rings true for me as well – if I could have helped some poor other drunk in some poor other way, then I am happy. All the pain of my drinking life was worth it.

      Cold Canuck Front hugs,


  11. Catherine Townsend-Lyon, Author says:

    I know this post is a wee bit older, but I was just telling my sponsor about my legacy. We talked about our books being published and out in the world, as hers are also about recovery. What an awesome legacy to leave behind, a published book of addiction and recovery to aid others after we are long gone from earth. I’m very proud of that 🙂

    Catherine xo

    1. You should be proud, Catherine! You are leaving something behind for others to learn from and to be inspired from! Blessings to you!

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