The Most Difficult Writing Assignment of My Life

ACFWEncouragement, Faith, writing Leave a Comment

by Jenny Powell MD

Back in the Dark Ages when I was in high school, Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, required an essay for high school applicants. I was an aspiring journalism major at the time, and poured my heart into what I thought would be the most difficult writing assignment of my life. It must have been okay because I was admitted into Northwestern University without any hitches. However, I did not attend Northwestern. My sweet Momma did not want to have to drive through Chicago to visit me.

I had a few more interesting and grade-dependent writing assignments in my freshman Rhetoric course at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When I re-enrolled into college thirteen years later (as a Microbiology major, no longer Journalism school-bound), I had an essay or two to write, but none as important as that Northwestern application essay. Medical school only required knowing how to write up a patient’s history and physical in a time-worn method. Family medicine residency? No essays. This is why when asked, “what do you write?” I tend to reply, “prescriptions, mostly.”

Fast forward to July of this year. Forty-five years since writing that application essay, I was given a writing assignment that topped Northwestern. After two years of fighting pancreatic cancer, my friend, my fellow book-loving former-pastor’s wife, lost her battle and received her heavenly reward. Her daughter (one of my nurses) approached me. “Mom’s obituary is awful,” she said. “Would you look at it and see if you can fix it?” Oh, sure, I replied, I’d be happy to.

Now, I had been through the funeral home obituary struggle. Even when your loved one “pre-plans,” expect to spend at least two or three hours with the funeral home personnel with their too-soft voices and their inattention to details. Flowers? Listen, I didn’t care about flowers, since that wasn’t my mother’s focus. My mom had been a public school teacher for a hundred years or so. If we are printing the obituary in the newspaper that her former students are going to see, it might be best to have a headline such as “Warrensburg-Latham Fifth Grade Teacher, Mrs. Nansen, Dead at Age 96,” because no one is going to know that Virginia (Collie) Nansen was their 5 th grade teacher. I sent the poor funeral home lackey back to the drawing board three times with his attempt with Mom’s obituary – and he still got it wrong. (One of my favorite jokes: Mrs. Stein learned that the newspaper charged per word for obituaries, so she submitted a classified ad: Stein died, Cadillac for sale.)

Not surprising to me, my nurse was right. Her mom’s funeral home obituary was . . . not good. It did not come close to what that wonderful spark of life that was her mother was all about. I  asked, what in all of that stuff they have listed is important to you? Does mentioning all the places she worked, the churches she belonged to, the places she had lived, the statistics of her life need to be included? No, came the answer. Just who all she has left behind. My friend’s daughter gave me free range after that.

How would YOU write the obituary of a book lover?

It begins, “Once Upon a Time.” I wrote it like a fairy tale. Near the end, I wrote: With the final words, “I love you, too,” she bid farewell and was welcomed beyond the veil, into the arms of her beloved Jesus and there she shall live happily ever after.

The Most Difficult Writing Assignment of My Life closed with two words: The End.

Jenny Powell MD is a family physician, thanks to a call from the Holy Spirit, with a unique practice style and two busy offices, available to her patients 24/7. When not writing prescriptions, she works on her unpublished manuscripts, reads a lot of novels, and supports ACFW writers. Visit Jenny on her website and Instagram @jpowellmdauthor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *