Who defines us?

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a good obituary to ponder but Mariel Kinsey has provided us with one, even if she had to go to extreme lengths to do so.

She died in Ashfield, Mass., last Friday, but not before writing her own obituary.

In NewsCut’s ongoing Art of the Obituary series, we have yet to broach a subject that Mariel now allows us to consider: Should we write our own obituaries, or leave it to someone else?

In many ways, the answer depends on this philosophical question: Are we defined by how others see us? Or are we defined by how we see ourselves?

Mariel makes a great case for writing our own, given that she and she alone could peer into her own soul. And yet, there are people unmentioned, a fact which makes us want to know more .

She left behind a great gift: Something to ponder.

ASHFIELD – Mariel Joy (Gilbert) Kinsey died Dec. 8, 2017. She wrote this obituary herself before she passed.

Born Feb. 13, 1932, of American Congregational missionaries in North China, she and her family were evacuated to the United States in 1940, where she began the rest of her life.

For the rest of her life she lived in several geographies: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Ohio, Vermont, and New Mexico, as well as Egypt, Tunisia, and England. For the rest of her life she worked as a visiting nurse, as a childbirth educator and labor coach, a hospital and hospice chaplain, a psychotherapist, and a spiritual companion. She also wrote: stories, poems, essays, and letters. During the course of the rest of her life, she was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, friend, sister and aunt; a sometimes recluse, and more often part of innumerable groups. For most of her life she lived as a single woman.

Her favorite activity out of everything else, was conversation.

She always had a dog. Beginning with the family dog in China, Whiskers, she had Cricket, Pepper, Alex, Archie, Oscar, Sam, Sophie and Josie. Every one of them slept on her bed.

Second to conversation, she loved long walks- through woods, across meadows, long beaches and roads, into canyons, high on mesas, up steep hills and down again, sometimes bushwhacking, often coming back with a poem. Or a pocket full of stories, many of which she still has. She didn’t climb a lot of mountains, because her lungs were somewhat compromised.

In her adult life, Mariel always had a garden, both flowers and vegetables, even though she wasn’t a very good gardener. She admired and envied what others were able to create, but especially out of all the others, she loved her own Shasta daisies, her tomatoes, and her potatoes. To dig into the soft earth and find a potato, to cook it, and eat it!

Most of the houses she lived in were small, and her cars were second hand and so were her books, and she loved watching the light change throughout the day, throughout the seasons, until it was night and the stars came visible. She wished she could better identify the constellations.

Ah – – her favorite authors! For poets there were Denise Levertov, Robert Frost, Mary Oliver, Czezlaw Milozs and Wislawa Szymborska. There was Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Merton, Brain Doyle, Annie Dillard, and Wendell Berry. And usually a murder mystery somewhere, and also The New Yorker and Shambala Sun.

In the last decade of her life, all three children, Dan, Alison, and Andrew, all grown up, lived within figurative yelling distance, with their spouses and partners: Jackie, Joanne, Michael, and Dan. The granddaughters Joni, Gracie, Shannon and Rosalie. To be able to watch the unfolding of their lives, from infancy to college was a surprise, a blessing, a bonanza, a bemusement, a lot fun.

Memorial Service will be held at the First Congregational Church,UCC in Ashfield MA 421 Main St. Saturday, Dec. 16, at 11 p.m.

In lieu of flowers and in keeping with her lifelong commitment to social justice, Mariel has asked that donations be made in her memory to the following organizations: American Friends Service Committee AFSC afsc.org and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts https://www.foodbankwma.org.

To sign a Guest Book, express condolences, share memories and read other obituaries, go to legacy.com/obituaries/gazettenet.

Her obituary appeared in the Hampshire Gazette and was forwarded to us by Eli Sagor.

  • MrE85

    I think Ms.Kinsey did as well encapsulating her life as she did living it. May we all be so blessed in the end.

  • Gary F

    My dad wrote his own obituary and we ran it. That’s the way he would have wanted it. He also had one typed up in #3 font, to see how much space it would take up in the paper and how much it would cost us. We laugh about those things now.

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    I like it. She controlled what was important for the rest of the world to know about her. It seems she lived a great life.

  • Ben Chorn

    I like it, but then again I am a self-obsessed millennial.

    I wonder if the responses would be different if the person who passed away was in their late 20’s.

  • Bose

    For me, authoring of the obit should lean toward whoever is the more competent, confident and/or authentic writer. Having that turn out to be the person writing their own strikes me as the exception to the rule… and what a gift when it happens.

  • Bob Sinclair

    As I’ve preached for many a funeral/memorial, the one thing that strikes me is that an obituary can never fully capture the essence of a person. We can tell stories that flesh that out, but even that doesn’t fully define the person. I think that maybe a person should write their own obit, so that what was important to them comes out, but at the same time then family and friends should also contribute to the piece.

    (BTW one thing that REALLY bothers me is that some newspapers charge per line or by the inch for an obit. I’m sorry but to me this seems like taking advantage of a family’s grief to turn an extra buck)

    • Barton

      I think the basic information should be run for free, but if someone wants to run something that is multiple paragraphs long? that seems like something they could pay for, or save the long obit for the memorial.

    • John

      Well. . . newspapers aren’t exactly swimming in excess cash these days.

      The one in my wife’s home town will run a basic announcement of death and when/where services are for free. If you want to opine on the deceased’s life, then you have to pay for the space. That seems reasonable to me.

  • Barton

    My grandmom (93) isn’t doing very well health wise. She sent me a PILE of documents last October with the following on a note card: Write my obituary.

    It was a crappy package to open. I avoided that pile sitting on my built-in buffet until last week, when she was admitted to the hospital with breathing issues. I was not going to let her leave us without fulfilling her “last” request to me (the current “last” request is to bake her ranger cookies for Christmas, I’ll do that tonight).

    So I penned 3 obits for her last week. The first was the boring one listing who had already died, who was left, what she was known for and where she wanted $$ sent in lieu of flowers. The second was a bit of the first but with a stronger religious bent to it (as she is a lifelong church-goer and Christian). The third was written from my point of view. Sure, it mentioned those who went before and those that would miss her here on earth, but it also talked about how her father wouldn’t let her go to college (for the price of 5 chickens a year) and as a result you bet she made sure every female in her family got an education! It talked about her experience on a sailing yacht at age 85 where she crewed/cooked for 15 other passengers/tourists/crew around Cape Horn. It talked about her being primary caregiver to my granddad as he slowly died from MS (fine, MS related illnesses, since they say it isn’t MS that kills you…. I disagree). It talked about her favorite flower being a yellow rose, and yet no one except her grandkids gives her yellow roses (something she has declared often) and yet she frequently receives bouquets.

    I mailed all three down her last last week. I know which one I prefer, not sure which one she’ll prefer. I am still waiting to hear her criticisms/critiques on them.

    • “Write my obituary.” There’s no bigger honor a person can bestow.

  • Alison Kinsey

    How did my mother’s obit end up in mi

    • We have a large non Minnesota readership of people who know how much we love the well written obituary.