Six-Word Autobiography: Dear Self, What’s Your Story?

August 31, 2016


Almost five years ago, a friend challenged me to write a six-word autobiography. After a brief panic, I scribbled:

Daughter. Friend. Wife. Mother. Writer. Widow.


Never mind how — but for the penultimate word — I’d identified my life story in terms of relationships with others. At 45 and scarcely into my second year of widowhood, that evening I’d penned the final word as just that — boldfaced and final, a granite-engraved epitaph.

If I’d written it half a year earlier, it would have differed slightly:

Daughter. Friend. Wife. Mother. Writer — Widow?

In that first year of suddenly-single parenting, I’d paddled, bailed, and kicked my way from surface to bottom and back again. I’d gasped through the mourning maelstrom of swirling, surface emotions others attributed to so-called “stages” of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. None had lined up neatly (in stages or otherwise) within the underlying, overwhelming, all-encompassing tsunamis of sadness, sorrow, and bereavement. Emotional tidal waves knocked me to my knees at the most unexpected (and inconvenient) crossroads. At times those expected “stages” spun clockwise beneath a counterclockwise hurricane of survivor’s guilt, insomniac exhaustion, career-homemaker’s panic, and endless paper (and paperless) reams of death-related bureaucratic red tape.

And I — wave- and wind-whipped between these forces and feelings — in too quiet, eye-of-the-storm moments of despairing privacy, I’d lifted my face heavenward and shouted, “I’m a widow? Really? This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!” Other times, when clamoring circumstances coerced a confession, I’d lowered my eyes, head, and heart in unwilling humility before I’d whispered, “I’m a widow.”


The buoy that kept me returning to the surface, the anchor keeping me from drifting into unknown waters, was my deepest, primary, faith-founded identity. When blurred vision obscured all else, I knew (and repeated) one truth: “God loves me.”

Reflecting now, from the steadier, safer street-shores of time-tempered trial and error, I wish I could reach backward to the self I was then, shaken as I was in body and soul. If I could, I’d embrace and encourage the shattered woman-girl-infant I was in those earliest days, weeks, months, and years of widowhood. I’d have promised the person I was that her — our — story wouldn’t end there. I’d have reminded her we’d revise it—plot, character, text, punctuation, and all.

I’d have shown her today’s six-year-widowed version, which proudly cares not whether its fewer-than-six phrases exceed a six-word limit:

Daughter of God; mother and mother-in-law; friend; author, colleague, and collaborator; widow …

Today’s punctuation ends with a deliberate, ongoing ellipsis. What will follow those three little dots? I’ll let you know …

What’s your ongoing six-word (or six-phrase) life story?


  1. lemuel

    August 31, 2016

    For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

    • Teresa TL Bruce

      August 31, 2016

      Yes, Ernest Hemingway told that brief but layered story in six words.

      (I also remember my grandmother telling this four-word tale she’d learned long before: “Fleas. Adam had ’em.”)

  2. Random

    September 1, 2016

    From this point on, now what?

    • Teresa TL Bruce

      September 3, 2016

      I think we can all read your story/question in our own pages. 🙂

  3. Gaye

    September 1, 2016

    Thank you for this beautiful piece. I’m just starting to relive the 6 1/2 week cancer free-fall that left me a widow last year. I also came to the conclusion on my own that “When blurred vision obscured all else, I knew (and repeated) one truth: “God loves me.”” That is the one true rock.

    Your of words of gentleness and hope to the shattered one from before brought me encouragement. Thank you!

    • Teresa TL Bruce

      September 3, 2016

      Gaye, I’m so sorry to learn of your husband’s death. I feel for you in the difficult adjustments you’re still making. Leaning on our Father’s loving awareness has been the one constant I counted on when it seemed everything else shifted.

      Thanks for your sweet praise. I’m grateful to know something I had to say may have lightened your load or outlook even a little.

  4. Sel

    September 2, 2016

    I’ve been thinking about this for days now, and my 6 words change a little depending on my mood and stresses. I was delighted to realise that some words didn’t even cross my mind, let alone be included – specifically “divorced” – which made me grin. Right now, my 6 word autobiography would be: Mum, weirdo, writer, fighter, reader, friend.

    Thanks for the self-reflection and happy dance!

    • Teresa TL Bruce

      September 3, 2016

      I love the alliteration, internal rhyme, and exhilaration!

      (And I’m proud to say my children continue to consider me weird, too — “But in a good way,” they usually add.)

  5. Tiffany W

    September 2, 2016

    Curious traveler explores family, history, culture.

    • Teresa TL Bruce

      September 3, 2016

      This made me think — really think, Tiffany. It’s easy for me to picture curiosity leading one to travel into explorations of history and culture. But to explore family takes a different layer (or, more likely, multiple layers) and form(s) of curiosity.

      Thank you for nudging my thoughts in that direction.

  6. Sandra

    September 2, 2016

    Curious cook; loves words, people, color.

  7. Teresa TL Bruce

    September 3, 2016

    Willing taster samples words. Savors yours. 🙂

  8. Jennie

    September 5, 2016

    Love all things 6 word memoirs, and your reflection on such. Those words say so much, yet can be limiting. Thanks for this beautiful piece.

    • Teresa TL Bruce

      September 21, 2016

      Thank you, Jennie, for your kind words.
      (In the spirit of the post, I wanted to use thanks instead of thank you, but it didn’t convey quite the same feeling. As you said — limiting.)

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