Why I wrote my own obituary, and why you should, too

I haven’t been bored during all of these stay-close-to-home pandemic months despite my limited times of being out-and-about. I have had plenty to do, and even then, I haven’t completed everything that I had wanted or needed to do. Just ask my wife.

I did accomplish one important goal, however. I wrote my own obituary. I don’t mean to sound morbid, especially during the holiday season. I don’t want to be a prophetic scribe either. I know my humor can be strange sometimes, but I am not kidding on this solemn note.

I was fortunate to celebrate another trip around the sun recently. I still have a long way to go to match my folks’ longevity. Mom lived to be 90, and Dad died a month short of his 90th.

I have been retired from my first career as a public school principal for 21 years already. Those years zipped by as I toiled in my second career as a writer and marketer.

Where has the time gone? The answer to that question inspired me to get busy on my private to-do list before my final day arrives. Consequently, I took the time to eulogize myself. I wanted to ensure appropriately mentioning all the essential points.

As my friend, author, and naturalist Julie Zickefoose recently wrote, “Life is a limited time offer. We need to make the most of it while we can.” She shared that about having lost her husband, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law all within a year.

Her point was that life is short. We can only live in the present moment. Will we waste away our time worrying, fretting, paranoid about actions and events over which we have no control? Or will we be productive citizens, helpful to others, friends, family, and strangers alike?

Obituaries should summarize a person’s life once they have ended their physical stay here on earth. A good obituary will reflect both the chronological benchmarks of one’s life and the individual’s personality.

Who better to do that than the person themself? We each know the good, the bad, and the ugly of our individual lives. But unlike others, we also know the why of each event, most of which we had no control over.

Besides, I like to write, and I want my obit to tell my story correctly. Don’t we all desire that? After all, I won’t be around to read it if some else writes it.

I love to make people laugh, most often using myself as the butt of the joke. Why shouldn’t that also be the case in my obituary?

I don’t want the litany of my life to read like a biographical resume: seed-seller, newspaper boy, gas station attendant, newspaper stringer, teacher, principal, marketing consultant, blogger, and wannabe photographer. I was and am so much more than that. We all are.

I wanted my obituary to tell the meaningful but less obvious threads of my day-to-day living. The memories that popped up surprised me. Like why I never learned to swim or how growing up near a volunteer fire department influenced the rest of my life. You might have the same experience.

By writing my own obit, I also wanted to make it easy on my survivors. All they have to do is fill in the blanks of when, where, and why. I hope and pray they are in no hurry.

With the pandemic still raging, none of us can be too careful. Daily newspaper death notices tell that tale all too often.

I suspect you indeed want to know some of the stuff that formulated who I became. When the time comes, you can read it in the paper.

Greg Miller is a nice guy

By Bruce Stambaugh

Greg Miller is a nice guy. Anyone who even remotely knows Greg would easily agree with that statement.

Greg Miller by Bruce Stambaugh
Greg Miller

Though raised just a mile south of where my wife and I have lived for 32 years near Berlin, Ohio, I really never got to know him until recently. Greg had long grown up and started his own adult life before we moved here. His mother continues to live in the same house, and still meticulously adorns her property annually with a wide assortment of lovely flowers.

Others have known Greg much longer and better than I have. But just from the few conversations that I have had with him, I can attest that Greg is the kind of guy everyone would welcome as a friend.

I had heard of Greg well before I got to know him. He was one of three birders about whom Mark Obmascik wrote his 2004 book “The Big Year.” When Hollywood turned the book into a big screen movie of the same name, Greg was ecstatic, and rightly so. Not everyone has a book written or a movie made about a life accomplishment.

By his own description, Greg is a computer programming geek by trade and an avid and expert birder by desire. Greg transformed that hobby into nearly an obsession when he spent much of 1998 doing a Big Year. A Big Year is when a birder observes or hears as many North American bird species as possible.
Banner at Lakeside Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
That year Greg surpassed the coveted 700 mark, as did two other men. The story of the extreme efforts of those three birders inspired both the book and the recently released movie.

Greg gave a touching keynote address at the Midwest Birding Symposium in Lakeside, Ohio in mid-September. He spoke to an audience of nearly 1,000 for an hour using no notes, speaking directly from his heart. Greg had the crowd spellbound relating his personal, touching story.

I was greatly moved when early in his talk Greg cited the influence of his kind parents, especially his father, in generating his interest in birding. Greg said he couldn’t remember seeing his first bird or getting his first pair of binoculars. Birding was simply a part of his heritage, thanks to the quiet, patient guidance of his late father, who himself was a man of integrity.

Kevin Cook and Greg Miller by Bruce Stambaugh
Kevin Cook and Greg Miller at the Midwest Birding Symposium held at Lakeside, Ohio in September.

Greg told the crowd how his father taught him to see the bird, and then lift his binoculars to his eyes to observe the bird’s details and to verify the species. Years later, Greg showed movie star Jack Black, who played Greg in the movie, the same birding technique.

Greg served as the birding consultant for the movie. He spent three weeks on-site with the crew. Greg couldn’t get over that the cast and crew were as enamored with him as he was in awe of them.

Greg is not perfect. He would be the first to tell you that. Greg has encountered and endured some of life’s pitfalls, like the rest of us humans. Now, however, he is basking in the glow of notoriety, racing to speaking engagements all across the country as if he were chasing after the rarest of birds.

Good for him. Through it all, Greg has remained Greg. He has not lost the sense of whom he is nor how he got to be where he is. That alone speaks volumes of just how nice a guy Greg Miller really is.

Julie Zickefoose by Bruce Stambaugh
Author and illustrator Julie Zickefoose greeted some of her admirers at the Midwest Birding Symposium at Lakeside, Ohio in September.