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

By Teresa Bruce


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?

About Teresa Bruce

Teresa TL Bruce burrows into stories for work and fun. She’s published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive for Kids, Florida Writers Association Collections, Florida State Poets Association anthologies, Segullah's Seasons of Change, and Orlando's The Community Paper, and she was a finalist in NYC Midnight’s 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge. Teresa advises “What to Say When Someone Dies” on TealAshes.com. She’s proudest of her three dynamic daughters, super sons-in-law, adorable grandchildren, and spoiled rescue dog.

14 thoughts on “Six-Word Autobiography: Dear Self, What’s Your Story?”

  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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. 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.


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