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.