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A Letter of Departure / Nick Ehrhardt

A Letter of Departure

Image via Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Image via Worcester
Telegram & Gazette

Self-written obituaries are becoming more common, so it doesn’t seem so jarring anymore when you find a story written in the first person among the death notices.

But there was one published in the Worcester (Massachusetts) Telegram & Gazette this month that read more like a thank-you note than a final farewell. Laura Jean Bassett Toomey Whiting died on July 19. “It is with great sadness that I leave you,” she started off. “…I am not prepared or ready to go.”

Whiting had battled cancer since Hodgkin’s disease was first discovered during her nursing school chest X-ray in 1970. Because of the early diagnosis, she was able to recover, earn two degrees (a BS and an MS), give birth to five children and welcome two grandchildren. With her second husband, Lawrence Whiting, MD, she renovated a house and travelled with the family to many national parks and international destinations, including Rome, Nice, London, Paris, Amsterdam and the Caribbean.

Whiting portrays herself as a cancer “survivor,” not a “victim,” and calls her long survival “miraculous.” For this and so much else she is thankful and eager to say so.

“Cancer certainly challenges a person, their family and their friends, but it also gives us a chance to think about what is important, the way we want to live, and the message we want to give. It allows you to say I love you to a wider circle of friends and to say I love you more often to your family.”

She also wanted to be specific in her thanks for the support she received over the years. “I so appreciate your delicious food, flowers, enjoyable get-togethers and your sharing of stories and love. What a gift! You are my gift! Thank you for those moments, those gifts. I love you.”

Several people posting in the online guestbook remarked about the beautiful “testament to her love of her family.” And one quite aptly commented on her moving “letter of departure.”

Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief."