What Will Your Obituary Say About You??

Thursday, January 14, 2016
What will your obituary read?  Not to sound morbid, but have you ever wondered what your obituary will say about you?  Have you ever had to write someone else's obituary? Do you routinely read the daily obituaries?  I've always read the daily obituaries in the newspaper, in fact, it's the only thing I regularly read in the paper.  I think that habit began with working in medical offices and later in a senior community.  Back then it was not all that uncommon to learn of a client's passing from the newspaper.  I've sort of gotten out of the daily habit in the past year, but on occasion, I still check them out.  I've also had the experience of reviewing obituaries left by family members when they pre-planned their funerals.  I've come to some interesting observations about obituaries that I thought I'd share today.

First of all, I've noticed that obituaries differ vastly in content.  Some obituaries include the bare necessities .....date of death, survived by, place of burial, etc...   Others are short novels listing every living and deceased relative, every academic achievement, every job ever held, every hobby ever pursued, every corner of the globe ever traveled.    Some mention particular talents such as 'best cook in the family', unselfish volunteer hours given, etc...  But regardless of the length or brevity of the written piece, the point of the notice is always included, and that is the fact that a life is over, someone's loved one passed away, either suddenly or after a long illness, and often with their loving family by their side.  No matter how long the obituary, how accomplished or not the individual was, the bottom line remains, a life is over, a person that was loved and admired by many or few, is now as they say, "in a better place, at peace".    That is the common denominator, the sad truth.

In thinking about obituaries, I wonder, what is the point of those obituaries that are long and boast a person's accomplishments?  Certainly they are not to give a pat on the back to the deceased because they won't see such accolades in print.  I can imagine that at this sad and devastating time being able to place your loved one on a pedestal one last time must bring some peace, some joy and I am certainly not saying that it's wrong to do so.  But what about the people who lived a more normal life, with less degrees, modest careers, but still a happy and satisfied existence?  They may have been even happier and more content than some with those long obituaries filled with resume quality details.  I have to admit I love to read those long obituaries.  I feel like a voyeur looking into the window of someone's life, a stranger whose life was so much different than my own.  Sometimes I'm so impressed, I wonder how it is that some folks just seem to be able to do it all, accomplish so much, give so much and be loved so much.  Certainly they must have been such an inspiration in life, and now in death for all who read their obituary.

I often wonder who wrote the obituary....was it the surviving family members or did the person do so before their death.  In our family, some have done so as part of their pre-planning, and when the time came, it was up to the family to spot-check the details and update the list of survivors, make sure no one was left out, etc...   Even this simple task can be daunting and I've seen on more than one occasion where names have been accidentally omitted or misspelled, and other such mistakes slip past the proof reader.  If the person wrote a basic obituary including just the facts, do you assume that is all they wanted to include or do you add some loving narrative about your loved one's life and accomplishments??  Do you assume they were being modest and if so, do you honor that or do you take this opportunity to pour your love onto paper?  Obituaries seem simple, but when you really think about it, they aren't really.  In fact if you google "Obituary", you'll find several articles on how-to-write an obituary".  Here's one of the better ones I found:

This week we said goodbye to my mom's sister, Helen.  Aunt Helen was 87 and had spent the past 3 years in a nursing home.  Her passing, though sad, was a blessing because the quality of the life she once loved was long gone as was the love of her life and best friend.  Helen had written the details of her own obituary in her pre-planning of her funeral.  Based on the undertaker's forms, these details consisted only of her parents, her survivors, where she'd worked and what organizations she belonged to.  So the obituary the undertaker wrote was a compilation of these details into a short narrative. What resulted was a factual, but brief description of who brought Helen into this life, who she left behind in her death, where she worked and played and where she would be laid to rest.  All factual and true, but certainly not the story of Helen as a human being.  It said nothing of the tough gal she was, stubborn and snarky.  It said nothing of her amazing artistic talents at any craft she attempted, how she loved sharing her crafting skills at the Senior Center and later at the Nursing Home.  It said nothing of the accomplished artist she was in ceramics, how she was a ceramics teacher and award winning ceramicist.  It didn't tell how much she loved to go to the casinos, how she loved taking long rides with her husband just to see where the road took her, how she had a soft spot for Pomeranians especially her beloved Tobys (there were 2).   It didn't talk about how much she loved to bake and how much she baked for her friends at the Senior Center.   No....there was a lot her obituary didn't tell about Helen, but I'm pretty confident that is the case with everyone's obituary.

That brings me to the point of this post.......what would your obituary say?   What would you want it to say?  Would you just want the basics, without the flowery details?  Does it matter to you what your obituary reads?  Here's what I propose.......sit down and write your own obituary.   Write it all!  If you want people to know where you worked, which jobs you loved the most, what accomplishments you are most proud of....include them.   If you would rather have people read about the simple things in life that made you happy - your garden, your friends, your grandkids, your morning coffee......include that.  Your obituary is YOUR story.  It should tell people about the person you were in life, not just the details from your birth and death certificates and income tax forms.  Your obituary is one of the last things the people outside of our family will know about you.  Your obituary is your final chapter, the last word, the last chance you get to tell the world who you were and of what you were most proud and most thankful.  Don't leave that job up to your family!   They will have enough on their plate just getting through the coming days without having the responsibility of writing your legacy. Don't think of it as a depressing or morbid task, think of it as a gift...your last gift, the sharing of your story, your legacy.  Years from now when your great-great grandkids come across your obituary, let them read about you, not just the legal facts, but who you were, the person that they are now a part of.  Quoting the above article I linked, 
"The obituary that is the most meaningful not necessarily the one that runs in the New York Times, or has the most column inches, but the one that is a well thought out work of the heart; one that is informative, expressive, and easy to read."  

So remember, it's not how long or how short your obituary reads.  What matters is whether or not it tells the story you want it to tell about the person whose story it reveals.

What will your obituary say about you?

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