Friday, January 10, 2014

Write Your Own Life Story and…….. Your Obituary

Some years ago I became fascinated by obituaries.  When I tell anyone, I get several reactions.  Some will gasp in horror – as if they imagine I am playing around somehow with the dead or nearly dead.  Others are fascinated and will listen to my explanation of the value of an obituary, and I gain a supporter though somewhat sceptical at the same time.

But let me tell you a few things.  There’s quite a history about obituaries – and much is written in Dr Nigel Starck’s book – Life After Death – The Art of the Obituary.  I came across it accidentally as I researched obituaries when I was studying at university, and read it from cover to cover.  When I learned that he lived and worked in my home town, I went to meet him, and our 15 minute cup of coffee turned into nearly three hours of enthusiastic conversation.  At the time I discovered that there was an International Society for Obituary Writers, which I did become associated with for a time, though the organisation has morphed into something else.

Obituaries Q&A with Dr Nigel Starck from Dan Masoliver on Vimeo.

Why would I be interested in obituaries, you might ask?  Think about it.  If you have a short bio of someone and then they die, you have the bones for the obituary. In fact it is not uncommon for those in the know to write their own obituaries with instructions to someone who can finish the last paragraph.
 As an Australian I am more familiar with the Australian obituary scene – and I can tell you it is interesting.  Not all newspapers publish obituaries on a regular basis, though some are serious about this community service.  I live in Queensland, and our daily paper publishes at least one obituary each week day towards the back of the paper adjacent to the births, deaths, and marriages section – and I have done some research about this section of the paper, which I will write more about in a later post.  On Saturdays there are usually three obituaries, and Sunday there are none.

 In Western Australia the obituaries are a (famous) feature of the daily paper The West Australian, and I have a wonderful collection of some of them.

Apparently up until World Wars they were a feature of most newspapers, but there were so many deaths at those times that newspapers felt reluctant to publish volumes of depressing news, and it was some time before they came back into popularity.  Regional newspapers will often publish obituaries as a regular feature.

These days many obituaries are featured on websites – designed to be a long lasting honour to the dead, but of course, as readers might imagine there are probably less than 1% of all deaths recorded in this way, and you may guess, mostly they are about men.  Few women have an obituary published about their lives – something I’d like to change.

Recently, I read an obituary in the Courier Mail, Queensland’s newspaper, about a former journalist and obituary writer who told his family that he had written his own obituary.  As it turned out, when he died, at age 89, his family could not find the piece and his two daughters wrote it. (Note to self – make sure my family know where my self written obit is kept!!)

Another reason why you can create your own, is that often at the time of someone's death, people are too traumatised/busy to think clearly, and often the mini biography or advanced obituary (the name of the writing of an obituary before death.)

I love reading obituaries – there are several great books written by awesome obituary writers, which I will detail in a later post.  Obituary writing is certainly not a deathly experience - it is a wonderful journey through the life of someone.

Would you write your own obit?


Jackie T said...

I have wondered if my Hubby knows enough about my youth and growing up to mention things that I feel important. Certainly something to think about.

Di Hill said...

That's the problem Jackie - often no one knows much detail about your story. It's your chance to leave the legacy of your life.

Cindy Siebert said...

I am going to have to think about this. Although thinking about my obituary doesn't give me warm fuzzies.