Lessons learned from own obituary

It's never too late to write a new beginning

A few years ago, in a strange turn of events, my law school mistakenly published that I had died. I had not seen that edition of the alumni magazine. So, I was surprised when I suddenly began receiving urgent text messages from thoughtful colleagues and friends. Yikes! I moved and suddenly others thought the worst had happened. I was grateful to everyone who looked into the matter and found me alive and well. Nevertheless, it was surreal to read the notice with my name.

I am not the only one who has had this sort of misprint happen to them. When I looked into it, I discovered that both Mark Twain and Ernest Hemmingway also had this bizarre experience.

However, the most notable tale I read was chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. When Nobel's brother died, a newspaper was confused and mistakenly published an obituary calling Nobel "the merchant of death." The incident is thought to be the driving force behind his creation of the Nobel Prize.

Fortunately, after reading my "death notice" the friends that I heard from had kind words to share. Still, it's hard to see something like that and not reflect for a moment. When I moved to Chicago, I made the decision to leave my legal career in order to spend more time with my daughters. However, by the time that magazine came out I was feeling lost and wondering what I should learn from the experience.

The first thing I realized as I talked with a former boss is that seemingly insignificant moments of kindness matter. All those years I spent worrying about deadlines, motions and trials didn't mean quite as much as I thought they would. What people remember most is how you made them feel.

The second lesson I learned is that when life takes an unexpected turn, lean into it. Looking back, if could give my 25-year-old self some words of wisdom, it would be to embrace change. Age has taught me that no matter how much you prepare in life there are always going to be things that spin out of your control. When life makes a mess of your plans, be brave and dream bigger.

Finally, time has taught me that I was not as lost as I had once believed. Around the time of that "obituary," I had begun writing a cooking and gardening blog. Although I liked to write, until then I had spent most of my time crafting legal briefs. However, what nine years as a trial attorney taught me was storytelling. My experience at the district attorney's office made me realize that it's important to share your truth and speak from the heart.

As I write my last column for The Hinsdalean, I am grateful for the opportunity to share a few tales of my own. Like Nobel, reading the end gave me perspective. I realized I had always been a storyteller. I just needed the courage to write a new beginning.

- Amy McCauley of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].