funeral planning for those who don’t plan to die
aka write your own obituary while you’re still alive
the first time I ever wrote an obituary was back in about 1968 or 1969 when one of my Journalism instructors had us write one for ourselves, projecting ahead to some future date. oh my, what a life I ended up with, lol. I can’t remember the specifics, it’s been too many years since I wrote that ode to a fantastic, generous, fulfilled life. the hubris of youth, eh?
the next time I had occasion to write an obit was 1991, and that year I wrote 3 of them. that was a good year, all right. my father was the first of the lot, and actually it wasn’t the obit I wrote, it didn’t occur to me to do so. but I wrote out a eulogy for the memorial mass, and that’s almost the same thing. I included personal reminiscences and threw in a maudlin poem for good measure. side note: five years later, to acknowledge the anniversary, i asked my younger brother in Ireland to write a poem for the obit section. it was wonderful, and what a great way to commemorate a life!
but back to 1991, I lost two very close friends, Dennis in the Summer and Dorothy in the Fall. both had been active in the hot air ballooning community, so I wrote a couple of “life well-lived” pieces for the balloon cub newsletter. I enjoyed doing that, because it provided me the opportunity to inject some of their personalities into those pieces.
while I don’t read the obit section as a habit, I’ve always been befuddled by the tendency for obits to be stiff and dry. “name” was born, married mr. x, had 3 children. survived by parents, siblings and their wives/husbands, and friends too numerous to count. services will be Friday at noon. I find it sad that someone’s life is condensed into basic sound bites without any indication what the person was really like. what did they like to do, what activities were they involved in, what were their dreams?
since 1991 I’ve written several other obits that actually were printed in the obit section of the newspaper. I always feel pleased when someone asks me to do so, it’s just a way for me to help them during a difficult time. plus I get to act like a sleuth, digging for the details that will ultimately blossom into a friendly profile that will mean something to the family and friends of the deceased.
sometimes, though, it’s like pulling teeth. about a year ago a friend asked me to write her sister’s obit. I had plenty of lead time, since she didn’t need it until they were set to travel to Texas to bury her ashes in the family plot. I’ve inquired several times for background details, but have yet to receive anything except a picture! I told my friend I don’t write well under pressure, so to please not call me the night before they drive to Texas and expect the output the next morning, ha!
several years ago, my sister-in-law’s mother died. I knew her very well and spent a lot of time not only visiting with her, but interviewing her for a family recipe memoir book I had just started. as a result I had lots of basic details, fleshed out with tidbits of historical and geographical references as well as family anecdotes. here’s one excerpt:
“Phyllis loved being involved in all the family activities, the visits from her grandchildren, making new friends, and of course continuing her lifelong tradition of cooking wonderful meals for family and friends. The kitchen was the epicenter of Phyllis’ life, and her thoughts always revolved around planning menus for upcoming visits, special occasions, and family get-togethers. The family has many warm memories of Phyllis’ favorite dishes, especially her fried chicken, potato salad, and of course her famous peanut butter cookies. Her granddaughter’s favorite was shoo fly pie, and she fondly remembers how her grandmother pronounced pie as “pah”.
here's another excerpt, this one posted by a long-time, online friend about her brother-in-law:
“Putty's lifelong career was with Chevron/Texaco, but his heart was in Little League, where he proudly coached decades of players, including his son and grandson, and energetically argued with the umpires. He loved baseball and playing golf with his boys, and he loved barbecuing for family and friends. He loved eating. And if you knew Putty, you know this is true: he loved talking. Putty loved to talk and he loved to argue. He could, and did, talk to anyone about anything, and he was indefatigable. It was best to just listen and nod.”
and one more snippet, from another online friend and blogger, writing about her favorite uncle. this one appeared in the New York Times:
“Another milestone in the happy history of Rolly’s life on Earth occurred on October 16, 2013 when, at the age of 86, he walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time in his life. The trek would have taken half as long if he hadn’t stopped every few minutes to pronounce that this view, or the one a few paces further, was the most terrific, most beautiful view of New York , of civilization, or of humanity that he’d ever seen. Rolly is survived by a legion of family and friends who have to figure out how to live in a world without him.”
to quote the blogger/artist/author friend (Vivian Swift) who wrote that last obit above, sage advice:
“You know the most famous obituary story, don't you? About the rich businessman who was mistakenly obitted (yeah, I made that up, and isn't it brilliant???) and he, reading this premature obit, realized that he didn't want to be remembered for having the world's biggest dynamite factory so he funded philanthropic awards in his name and that's how Alfred Nobel is now mostly known for his Prize. So maybe writing your own obit will reveal a life's mission, or not. You never know.”
final analysis? give some thought to writing your own obituary. at least that way some semblance of how you’d like to be remembered will show up in the newspaper and the family's genealogy records. how do YOU want to be remembered?