Why 37days?

Cemetery Chapter 9 of Life is a Verb includes a section entitled "Live an Irresistible Obituary." Today I found out exactly what that means, when my friends Betsy Hilt and Joan Eisenstodt pointed me to an obituary from the Cleveland newspaper for a woman named Nancy Lee Hixson. That's what I'm talking about. Now THAT's an obituary to be proud of. Read the whole thing, all of it, no paragraph breaks and all:

Nancy Lee HIXSON

(NANCY) LEE HIXSON of Danville, Ohio died at sunrise on June 30, 2009. She was born Nancy Lee Wood in Cleveland on April 17, 1944, baptised at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Valley City Ohio, and confirmed at St. John's Lutheran Church, Independence Ohio. In addition to being a teetotaling mother and an indifferent housekeeper, she was a board certified naturopath specializing in poisonous and medicinal plants; but she would like to point out, posthumously, that although it did occur to her, she never spiked anyone's tea. She often volunteered as an ombudsman to help disadvantaged teens find college funding and early opened her home to many children of poverty, raising several of them to successful, if unwilling, adulthood. She also enjoyed a long life of unmentionable adventures and confessed she had been a rebellious teen-aged library clerk, an untalented college student on scholarship, a run-away Hippie, a stoic Sunday School teacher, a Brownie leader, a Grange lecturer, an expert rifleman, a waitress, a wife once or twice, a welder, an artist, and a writer. She was in earlier years the president of Rainbow Systems Trucking Company, Peninsula Ohio, and she drove tractor-trailers over-the-road hauling freight commodities to startled customers from Minnesota to Florida. She was the CEO of the Cuyahoga Valley Center of Outdoor Leadership Training (COLT), where she lived in a remote and tiny one-room cabin in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Despite the lack of cabin space and dining table, she often served holiday dinners to friends and relatives and could seat twenty at the bed. She lived the last twenty-three years at Winter Spring Farm near Danville where she built a private Stonehenge, and planted and helped save from extinction nearly 50 varieties of antique apple trees, many listed in A.J. Downing's famous orchard guide of 1859 – among them such delicacies as Summer Sweet Pearmain, Sops of Wine, Westfield Seek No Further, and Duchess of Oldenburg. Her homemade cider and wine were reputed to cause sudden stupor. She befriended countless stray dogs, cats, horses, and the occasional goat. She was a nemesis to hunters, and an activist of unpopular, but just, causes. In short, she did all things enthusiastically, but nothing well. After moving to Danville, she bravely suffered with a severe and disabling disorder and a ten-year battle with lymphoma that ultimately took her life. She was often confined to the home where she continued to tirelessly volunteer and donate her limited resources to needy teens in the area, always cheered by their small and large achievements. Sympathy and big donations may be extended at this time. She was predeceased by her father Dwight Edward Wood of the Ohio pioneer Wood family of Byhalia, who died in the Columbus Jail having been accused of a dreadful crime, and by her second father Ted A. Cznadel of Danville who adopted her, loved her and raised her despite it all. She is survived by her dearly beloved son, her heart and soul and every breath, Christopher Daniel Hixson of Akron, (a sterling citizen who rose above his murky childhood with a scandalous mother), and by his loving partner Mitchell Kahan. She is also survived by her mother, the opinionated and stubborn Ann Gall Cznadel; by her brother the Rev. Dr. Thomas R. Sluberski, a Lutheran minister and professor, most recently of Rio de Janeiro; by her gentle, ecological brother Gregory T. Cznadel, a quality manager of Cleveland; by her talented sister Linda R. Cznadel Hauck, a librarian from sea to shining sea, of San Luis Obispo; by her genius nephew and godson Matthew Hauck of Minneapolis; and the other half of her heart, her patient friend and backstairs lover of thirty years, David Paul Bleifus who resides at the farm. Ms. Hixson traced her lineage directly through eleven generations to Governor William Bradford of the ship Mayflower and the Plimouth Colony, and was in the process of membership to The Mayflower Society. She was a long-time card carrying member of the ACLU, the Democratic Party, and of MENSA. The family wishes to thank Dr. Gene Morris for his care, understanding and sense of humor through it all; Dr. Paul Masci of Cleveland Clinic Wooster; and Dr. Skip Radwany and the nursing staff of the Palliative Care Center at Summa for their compassion as Lee shuffled off this mortal coil. Cremation has taken place. Immediate family and friends will gather at Stonehenge on a sunny summer day to celebrate her life. Interment is in the family plot at Brinkhaven Hilltop Cemetery in Brinkhaven, Ohio, where she will await an eventual and probable slide down the cliff to the Mohican River below. In lieu of flowers, please pray for the Constitution of the United States. "Now Voyager depart, (much, much for thee is yet in store)…" – Walt Whitman

How about writing your own? "Where she will await an eventual and probably slide down the cliff to the Mohican River below." Just think of all the fun you can have describing your family members ("genius nephew," "gentle, ecological brother," "opinionated and stubborn mother," "her patient friend and backstairs lover of thirty years").

What would your obituary look like? What would you like it to look like?

SusieR says:

BRILLIANT! they celebrated her LIFE – not her achievements… and yet her achievements WERE her life. i love it!

Martha says:

I just learned that Joy Sikorski, a lovely writer/illustator, passed away via this:

Joy wrote gloriously playful books like “How to draw a clam…”

You can visit Joy’s wonderful site:


Nikki Hardin says:

Love love love this…and your site of course!

emily-sarah says:

How wonderful. And we must remember: Each of us is, day by day and moment by moment, creating what will be our legacy. …

Cathi Eifert says:

This is wonderful – I will try to write my own, it is a wonderful exercise. I wish I could have known her.

Chris Hixson says:

My mother has been popping up around the web this week, but her obituary’s inclusion on your site is the one that makes me most happy. Thank you all for the kind words about her life and her writing. I assure you mom wrote the obit herself, periodically sharing copies with me (over seven years) for input and review. I added only the ‘Now Voyager’ send-off (without her knowledge, but it was appropriate) and the thank yous to the caregivers. Everything contained in it is true, and her obit doesn’t even scratch the surface of the life she lived, and that we shared with her. Thank you all for your kind words. Somewhere, she’s getting a kick out of the attention.

LauraSue says:

This is fabulous. I expect she wrote it herself–and if we want one as great as this, we should all get to writin’. Update it every so often. Keep it in your file cabinet along with your Healthcare Power of Attorney and make sure your loved ones know where it is. Show up for your own death the way you show up for your life.

jylene says:

love it, love it, love it- every line!
thanks for sharing with all of us!

blue girl says:

Well, hot damn! That was excellent. How I love the truth of it all! I love that she was remembered for everything she was. We’re such messy, fun people! It’s fun (and refreshing) to rejoice in that.

I love the line, “…could seat twenty at the bed.” Rich.

Lu says:

Absolutely awesome! Here I was looking for some inspiration and this did it for me. I had many great laughs from it.

Carolynn says:

I would like to have met her and the person who wrote the obit. Great sense of humour and wit. No poetry intended.

Johhny P. says:

“She did everything enthusiastically, but nothing well.” I’d buy her a drink, goddamnit.

Liz says:

I LOVE this! I sometimes ask my students/clients to write their obit- Now I’ll give them this one as an example!
This definitely ups the ante on the one I’ve written for myself!

gwyn says:

How wonderful! I’m glad I caught this before heading off to bed. Something to sleep and dream on.

Lori says:

That is outstanding! I wish I had known her – she sounds like my kind of friend.

fabulous! makes me just want to die!!!

Miss Marshall says:

A fine obit. “Backstairs lover” is nice, but the best is “could seat 20 at the bed.” You mourn the loss of this fascinating woman.

Artsysue says:

Love love love this and definitely will be writing mine. My daughter grew up to be a doctor in spite of her crazy and scandelous mother and I want all to know it when I’m gone. What a treat this is!

aurora fox says:

wow! terrific patti! I hope my family can do this for me (or perhaps I will leave one….;-)

Angelique says:

LOVE IT. This post made me go back and revisit my mother’s obit, which I wrote in a flurry, but remain pretty content with. A snippet, which is the last entry of her “Living Life Abundantly & Succulently” blog:

Lived a varied and joyous life: beginning in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago, traveling across the Midwest on the dog show circuit and up and down the East Coast, stamping her passport to see the Crown Jewels in London, and making her home in a quiet neighborhood in Florida, while enjoying a creative and beautiful life as Her Excellency Baroness Duva dea Pullea in a kingdom known as Trimaris. Her resume lists many jobs, but first and foremost was her dedication to her children, Michael (11) and Angelique (28). Also survived by a brother, Larry (44) and countless people who called her “friend.” Died after a more than yearlong battle against cancer, but her humor, love, and joie de vivre stay with us.
“To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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