Documenting ones life


In one of the first writing classes I took as a journalism major in college we learned how to write an obituary. I don’t know if that’s still the progression of things.

Maybe that’s why I read obituaries in the newspaper now. I just like to learn about how people lived, where they were born, about their careers and families, even when I didn’t know them in life. If the obit is just the basic facts, does that mean the person led a simple life? Or was it that he/she didn’t feel the need to share the details of their life?

I found that the first obituaries published in newspapers were often just one line because printing the first newspapers was very tedious and time consuming. But then the first linotype was invented in the 1880s, which speeded up the process. Still, editors had to balance space for news and features with space for advertising.

It’s interesting how obituary customs evolved; for instance, most obituaries published around the turn of the 20th century were written as poems. And it used to be that obituaries were much more flowery.

I came across an obituary from a city newspaper a few years back that still impresses me. This woman must have been quite the lady, as indicated in her obituary. “She chose not to reveal her age in life,” it reported,” and has taken the exact number to her grave with her.

“Her inimitable sense of style pervaded all aspects of her life. Her great delight was to bring aspects of beauty and elegance to everything that she did and to everyone whom she touched.”

I don’t know if she wrote her own obituary. It makes me wish I could have known her, even just a little.

Six years ago my neighbor, age 35, died in a work accident. The family was very special to me, so although I was very sad at the time, I was pleased when the wife and mother of four accepted my offer to write the obituary for George. It meant a lot to me to be able to do that for all of them.

I did the same last year for friends of my family when their mother died. It is a tender, touching time to be invited into the circle by the family, and it helped ease my I-wish-I-could-do-something feeling.

When my parents died, it helped me process what was going on when I wrote their obituaries. I remember how pleased my mom was with my dad’s obituary.

I haven’t decided yet if I’ll write my own obituary. I hate to be that controlling, but what if whoever writes it misses something factual or is shaky on writing mechanics?