Last week I received an interesting call … well, I receive interesting calls almost every day, but this was a first.
A woman I have known since before she moved here (about a dozen years ago) called to ask about putting an obituary in the paper.
I explained the procedure, and then she said the obituary was her own!
“Are you sick?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “I just turned eighty and I want to take care of it now. My kids don’t live here and I don’t want them to have to deal with that part when I go.”
I had to think, how amazingly thoughtful that was of her!
Preparing an obituary for someone you love is a difficult task done at a difficult time. Sure, everyone reads obituaries, but when you have to sit down and do it for a family member things can get left out or forgotten, and the essence of the person not shared.
An obituary should acknowledge the loss of a loved one, express the pain of loss and of the joy their presence brought.
Too often obituaries are prepared in haste, in a fog of grief, and on a newspaper deadline. Instead of a meaningful tribute, they often become a string of phrases and fill-in-the-blanks of personal information.
So why not do everyone a favor and write your own! Or, at least write a part of it.
Many of the obituaries in the newspaper fail to convey the personality or contributions of the deceased in a meaningful way. I had someone get mad at me one time because they felt an obituary did not do the deceased justice. I explained that the obituary published was what the family submitted.
Begin with the name, age and place of residence of the deceased, along with the time and place of death.
“Passed away,” “died,” “went to be with his Lord,” “after a long struggle with cancer” and “surrounded by her family” are all common variations in this statement. Use what you feel comfortable with.
The cause of death is optional. If writing your own, leave that part blank.
An obituary is not a biography but rather a recounting of important events, qualities, contributions and connections in a person’s life. List milestones, the date and place of birth, parents’ names — including mother’s maiden name — the date and place of marriage, birth name of spouse, education, work, and military service.
An obituary is not a legal document, so if in your heart you feel that a stepparent should be listed as a parent, that a divorce need not be mentioned, or that some experience should be omitted, follow your judgment.
Do not be afraid to put the more important information such as marriage before education, even if it took place afterward. A long list of honors and accomplishments is not often of interest to anyone outside the immediate family. Do mention significant contributions and recognitions.
Bring an obituary to life by mentioning a quirky habit, a favorite recipe or a touching expression of love.
If writing your own obituary, leave a spot for personal stories about you.
List survivors first, starting with the closest relations: spouse, children, grandchildren, great and great-great-grandchildren, parents and siblings. List relatives with their first name, the spouse’s first name in parenthesis, then surname. If the spouse’s surname is different or the couple is not married, including the partner’s surname in the parenthesis along with their first name. In the confusion and preoccupation of grief, important relatives can be forgotten.
List the service time and place and, again, if writing your own, you can make a suggestion of where to have it or request none. Leave special messages for the end.
Photos can be a reminder of the person we miss, and a useful way for readers to recognize a loved one among all the other obituaries. Here is your chance to select a photo that you like!
The purposes of an obituary are: acknowledging the passing of one of us; celebrating the gifts that the person’s life brought to us; sharing parts of a life that we may not all be aware of, and expressing the grief of our loss.
What makes the difference in an obituary is the loving participation of the family.
The obituary that is the most meaningful is not necessarily the one that has the most column inches, but the one that is a well thought out work from heart. It’s one that is informative, expressive and easy to read. And who knows you best? You.
Forks Forum Editor