In our last post I asked you to consider writing your own obituary. I realize this exercise may be daunting for some. I recall teaching a class on “Death and Dying” in the community many years ago when one man, a church deacon in his 60s, was visibly upset by the prospect of writing about his own death. We become accustomed to employing diversionary tactics when thinking about dying. We talk about “passing away,” “going to sleep,” (which can frighten young children), “gone,” and of course that favorite one “if something happens.” Acknowledging death is inevitable is not obsessing, but accepting it as part of the landscape, just as the seasons of the calendar, so are the seasons of life. It is my hope we will experience life more fully when we realize it is fleeting.
I have not heard from anyone who worked on the suggested assignment, but if you did you may have looked for help on the Internet. There are countless sites offering advice or even templates so that you can just fill in the blanks. I am sure many are good sources, but one that impressed me with its variety of obituary types was https://www.obituaryhelp.net. Some prefer to leave this task to funeral home personnel who have training and experience in the proper structure of obituaries. If a formal format is preferred, then providing the names, dates and personal information to the funeral home will be all that is required of the family when you die. Since obituaries should honor and reflect the life of the deceased, writing one’s own ahead of time might be more personal. This can be detailed or perhaps just a theme, special quotes or anecdotes you want included.
Some general guidelines for writing your own obituary include:
- Write in the third person.
- Keep it short. Some obituaries are so long they are not likely to be read in their entirety, if at all. Another reason to trim it down, is cost. Newspaper charges for this service are expensive.
- The cause of death may or may not be included.
- Keep it updated. It may be a good idea to add notes for your family as you think of things over time.
I have read obituaries for years and often been teased about this routine, long before I reached my current age, which is well within the obituary reading range. It isn’t so much I am looking for names I recognize, although that is part of it. I find obituaries to be interesting reading. It is true there are accounts of tragedies, infants and children, those who died without any “next of kin,” but there are also the ones that are inspiring or entertaining. At one time I had a collection of hundreds that were keepers and somewhere along the way they became lost or perhaps I became embarrassed, but now I only have a few dozen. One I no longer have referred to the deceased as having “Slipped the surly bonds of earth” and that line fascinated me so I did an Internet search and found it was from the poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr, “High Flight.”
Another newspaper page that I recall, but no longer have in my collection listed two separate obituaries that could only happen in Kentucky: both “Bubba” and “Buford” died the same day. A favorite from November 2016, has verses of songs interspersed throughout. These included the music of The Beatles, The Spinners, Poco and Steely Dan. The obituary itself is full of fun, travels and adventures of a 68-year-old.
Nicknames are sometimes fun to read while imagining their origins. Some I recall include: Baldy, Tooter, Snuffy, Catfish, Peanut, Honest Frank, Blood and finally, Poboy & Buster for the same man. Curiously, of these clippings only two females had nicknames, Mu and Big Mama.
As you continue to consider working on your obituary, please also think about, your preferences for a memorial service or funeral considering music, speakers and perhaps who you would like to deliver a eulogy. Following those topics we will discuss disposal of remains and suicide in future posts.
Eventually, grief will be discussed comprehensively, but we may decide to hold off and move on to lighter subjects for a while. Feel free to provide feedback on this, as well as, anything you have to share.
“High Flight” John Gillespie Magee, Jr
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, —and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of —Wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air . . . Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace where never lark or even eagle flew – and, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod the high un-trespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand, and touched the face of God.