Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Should You Write Your Obituary?

Yesterday, a dear friend passed away. Wanda Bates was a writer whom I had featured in one of my postings some time ago. She was 95 and physically frail, but her mind was strong and clear up until only a short time before she died. I will miss her, but one comfort I have is that her writing will be with me forever. All I need to to bring her close again is to read the many fine essays and stories she'd written.

I couldn't sleep last night, and because death had been on my mind, I began thinking about obituaries that appear in newspapers and now online at funeral home sites.

I've heard more than one friend complain about the very long obituaries we sometimes see. You know the ones--they list every single group or organization the person had belonged to throughout decades of their lifetime. They list the hobbies and pet charities and more. They list every town the person has lived in.I've seen some that are several columns long. For some people, this may be exactly what they want to have, while others cringe at the thought.

If you want your obituary a certain way, then you should write it yourself while you're still of sound mind and body. Who knows you better? Who knows all your relatives? Your career info, your birth and marriage dates. One more reason to write your own obituary is that it will relieve your family of gathering all this information for the newspaper at a time when they will be under the stress of dealing with a loss.

Several years ago, a friend and her husband booked a trip to Egypt. She wrote both their obituaries before they left, then called her son and told him what she'd done and where he could find them. He immediately replied, "Mom, that's just plain ghoulish!" "No," she told him, "if something would happen to us while we're on an overseas trip, or any other time, you'd thank me for having done this." She died several years later, and when I read her obituary in our newspaper, I knew without a doubt that she'd written it herself. I could almost hear her voice in the words she'd written.

You don't have to be a professional writer to compose your own obituary. Make a list of all the information it should include and the order. Easy enough to do by looking at some already written in your local newspaper. Then write a first draft. Wait a few days and read it over to see if you want to change anything. Make your final copy, put it in a safe place and let a family member know where they will find it when it's needed.

It's not at all "ghoulish" as my friend's son said. It's a smart thing to do and a kindness for your family.

1 comment:

  1. I am so sorry to hear about Wanda. I'm going to go reread some of her stories. I only knew her as a wonderful writer.

    Writing our own obituary is a very good idea. I'm one of those who would cringe at the thought of having some over-the-top novella in the newspaper.