Why You Should Write Your Eulogy On Your Birthday

An Alternative Approach to Reflecting on Life

Shelby Parks
7 min readApr 2, 2021

Birthdays are weird. For some, they consist of a celebration, others mourn the day, and some choose to avoid the day altogether. These three categories, of course, being a generalization of sorts, but, you get the point. Birthdays arouse different emotions in each of us.

For me, my birthday has been a reflective time, at least for the last decade.

Yes, I love being around friends and family, but I also love the quiet moments I take to check in with myself, typically in the form of a eulogy. Some will see this as morbid, but hang in there with me.

The first time I wrote my own eulogy was perhaps one of the most spiritual and reflective experiences I have generated for myself. Not only did I become closely acquainted with my own mortality, which is fundamentally missing from American culture and leads to many people being unable to process death and loss in a healthy manner, but it also allowed me to see first-hand if I was living in integrity with myself.

This year is different because, in this past year, I lost two of the most important people in my life: Grandma “G-Funky” Jan and my best friend, Sandy. Unlike years past, my eulogy would not be complete without reflecting upon both of these unique souls and the roles they played in my life.

The thing about my Grandma and Sandy is that they are the rare group of humans who truly lived. At 86 and 25 years old, these two humans encompassed all that I would ever hope to become in my own life. They were teachers in their own right and, more than anything, they lived in integrity with themselves; for me, the ultimate truth of a life well-lived.

So, on my birthday this year, I read the notes of grief and the essays of mourning that I poured my heart into over this past year as a means to understand, heal, and reflect. I looked at photos of the relationships I shared with each of them and re-read the letters they each wrote me over the years.

Me and Grandma “G-Funky”. The smile on her face was a permanent feature as was her contagious laugh.

As I sat there watching my fingers move stroke by stroke in an attempt to capture my grandmother’s essence in a short obituary I was struck by the rare quality that she lived her life full of unconditional love. She lived by her values and did not stray from them. She lived a life of integrity, and so I thought: how many of us can truly say that?

When I was asked to write my grandmother’s obituary, at first I was honored. That feeling blanketed me in the warmth of getting to celebrate my grandmother’s life through words quickly transitioned into anxiety and fear as the question plagued me: how could I ever sum up her essence into mere paragraphs? The task was daunting, to say the least.

And it was daunting because she was pure love and joy. The words overflowed the paper just as G-Funky’s laughter could fill up the room. When I let go of the expectations of what an obituary ‘should’ be, it became G-Funky as if she was writing through me. — Personal journal entry, January 14, 2021

While some of the entries made me laugh, others made me cry. I did not shame myself for anything that came up. Instead, I felt deep-seated gratitude for the time I shared with both Sandy and my Grandma. More than anything, I was able to see the qualities and choices that existed in both Sandy and my Grandma which enabled them to chose a life of abundance, no matter the circumstances around them.

You were the sun, the moon, and the stars. You were my everything. You saw to the depths of my being and loved me for my darkness and for my light. You held everyone in their anger and sorrow, and you danced with us, reminding all of us of our brilliance and place in the world. You radiated from every atom of your being. And you got it. You knew so deeply about life. You were too perfect for this world. Maybe that’s why you were taken so young. — Personal journal entry, June 12, 2020

Sandy and I at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. The pouring rain allowed us to have the park almost entirely to ourselves.

As I allowed my feelings to settle, I was ready to write my eulogy for the year.

I did not write each sentence thoughtfully. Instead, I imagined myself standing at my celebration of life, picturing loved ones sharing my essence, and the words flowed. At the time I wrote pen to paper. I did not pause to choose the right diction; I did not stop to ask myself if the grammar was correct; instead, I set a timer for 20 minutes and I wrote fluidly.

“People don’t listen to numbers, but they will always remember a good story”, she would say. It was because of this that she decided to become a writer. She believed that storytelling could change the world…

…One of my favorite things about her is that she considered herself rich. By society’s standards, she did fine. But Shelby, if you asked her, she would say she might be one of the richest people in the world. She was rich in the sense of family and community, in her life-long love, in her passion for life and work, and gratitude for each day…. — Personal journal entry, April 2, 2021

Maybe writing your eulogy is too difficult, or maybe it is exactly what you need.

If, indeed, you choose to try this, let me share what may happen. Either 1: If are living true to yourself and your values, your eulogy will mirror the energy of your life today. It will feel honest, perhaps make you smile, and you may even feel more whole and at peace with your mortality. Or, 2: You may find that the person you wish to be in the world differs from who you are in the moment. This will allow you to ask yourself: what can I change in myself to be in integrity with how I wish to exist? Maybe it is something as simple as starting a gratitude practice or perhaps calling your mom to tell her that you love her.

The point is, writing your eulogy allows you a deep practice to reflect upon the life you wish to live now and how you want to be remembered.

In sum, writing your eulogy on your birthday can be both a powerful and an emotional experience. If you feel ready or called to the practice you can start like this:

  1. Find a safe and quiet place: I prefer the early morning when the world feels still and my mind isn’t buzzing with the noise of the day.
  2. Grab a pen and paper: Many of us are accustomed to only writing on a computer. The reality is, there is something personal about writing your eulogy by hand.
  3. [Optional] Reflect on loved ones who have passed in the last year: If you feel ready, take the time to read through or look at memories. These people had an effect on you for a reason and taking time to learn from how they impacted you can help you understand how you wish to exist in the world.
  4. Write for 20 minutes: Allow yourself to free-flow write. Try your best to not stop, think or reread. When you free-flow write often things come up that you were not aware of.
  5. Take space: Give yourself at least an hour before you read through what you wrote. During this time maybe go on a walk, read, or call a loved one.
  6. Reflect: Read over what you wrote and absorb what is on the paper. What learnings can you extract? How do you feel? This is your time to reflect on your life.
  7. Integrate: If you do not feel whole or balanced with what you wrote and how you are currently living, try to choose one thing you can do now to move you deeper onto that path.

Each year I have done this exercise I am pleasantly surprised to find that how I wish to leave the world has become more and more aligned to how I am living my life in the present. This exercise has played a role in big decisions around my career, personal relationships, and geographic location, to lifelong lessons of learning how to let go, to manage my emotions, and to love unconditionally.

While I undoubtedly will learn something new every birthday, what I know at this moment is that my Grandma and Sandy were extraordinary humans, and I don’t use that word lightly. If I leave the world with a trail of love as they did, I will have done something right.

I’ll leave you with the somewhat overused but always brilliant words of Oscar Wilde: “To live is the rarest thing in the world; most people just exist.”

Happy Birthday, to me.



Shelby Parks

Harmonizing people’s relationship with themselves & the natural world through storytelling.