When a loved one dies, it can be hard to know how to fully commemorate their life. Family members, already devastated and in mourning, are tasked with writing obituaries and eulogies that memorialize the person’s spirit and give them a fitting tribute.
But sometimes, people make it easy.
Emily Debrayda Phillips, from Orange Park, Florida, lived a life full of joy and adventure. She was a beauty queen, a teacher, a mother of two and a grandmother of five.
When Phillips was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February 2015, at the age of 69, her family was devastated—and her daughter, Bonnie Upright, thought she’d soon have to fulfill a promise she had been dreading.
“For years the plan was ‘Bonnie, will you please write my obituary?'” Upright told USA Today.
But it turned out, she wouldn’t need to. Shortly after her diagnosis, Phillips knew she wouldn’t have much longer. So she gathered her family around her hospital bed … and did something stunning:
She read them her own self-written obituary.
Phillips had asked her daughter to read her self-penned death notice before, but Upright felt it would be too painful. However, it became clear it was something they needed to do.
“How do you tell your dying mother no?” Upright told the Huffington Post. “The answer is, you don’t.”
So the dying woman read the obituary—and it was surprisingly hilarious.
“It pains me to admit it, but apparently, I have passed away,“ Phillips’ obituary begins. “Everyone told me it would happen one day but that’s simply not something I wanted to hear, much less experience. Once again I didn’t get things my way! That’s been the story of my life all my life.”
The obituary recounts Phillips’ life and is filled with humor and loving personal memories of her family. Despite the sadness surrounding her dying, it provided a beautiful and inspiring moment.
“It was one of the most special moments of my life to hear my mother tell her life story in her words, in her way, in what were incredibly difficult circumstances,” Upright told ABC News.
“So as tragic and as sad as death is, her courage and her bravery in facing her death and in wanting to leave a mark her way is incredibly special to the family.”
Phillips died in March 2015. But she’d be happy to know that even after her passing she got her moment in the spotlight:
When the obituary was published, it became a viral hit.
Phillips’ unorthodox obit was published in the Florida Times-Union, but it was picked up by news outlets across the country. It quickly caught people’s attention, both for the fact that it was self-authored and for the spunky, humorous tone it is written in.
“I do find it surprising that she was able to work in the words ‘hiney’ and ‘naked’ in the obituary, that might have been a surprise,” Upright told USA Today. “The fact that she did it, and she did it in context, is beautiful.”
“So…I was born; I blinked; and it was over,” Phillips wrote. “No buildings named after me; no monuments erected in my honor.”
“But I DID have the chance to know and love each and every friend as well as all my family members. How much more blessed can a person be?”
Her daughter thinks it’s a better sendoff to her mother than anyone else could’ve given her.
“So often I think when obituaries are written, it talks about the people left behind,” Upright said. “I love that this was about her, that it’s about my mom.”
“She was an individual, and I think sometimes in life we all get caught up in our roles day to day. So, I just think it’s wonderful she was was able to tell her story in her words, in a really impactful, special way.”
“Please don’t cry because I’m gone; instead be happy that I was here,” Phillips wrote at the end of her obituary, before adding:
“(Or maybe you can cry a little bit. After all, I have passed away).”