While we all love writing, unfortunately there are times we must use our talent for tasks that are challenging or heartbreaking, such as composing obituaries or eulogies for loved ones.
Recently I did both to honor my father and because I am a longtime admirer of obituaries, I was cognizant of how my words would form an enduring portrait and choosing the wrong ones might produce a false legacy. I did my best, but how do you adequately sum up a life in a few column inches? As a gift to my children, I’ve written my own obituary and I certainly hope it will be outdated by the time they have to use it!
These exceptions aside, I enjoy reading obituaries even when I have no connection to the deceased or their survivors. Obituaries are wonderful stories. Some are better written than novels and many likely are just as fictional. I’m always intrigued by what information is included and curious about who and what’s left out — and why. Although an obituary purports to be a snapshot of a life, it’s important to remember that it’s also a history related by family members as they viewed it, and often composed by strangers at a newspaper or funeral home.
I like obituaries that surprise or make me laugh (not unlike the character in my novel-in-progress who reads them aloud to her dog). I howled when I read that before Donald C. Cheney passed, the 85-year-old man known for his wit opened his eyes and asked family members hovering around his bed, “Do you people know something I don’t?”
I enjoy learning about the hobbies of the deceased. It surprises me how many were ice fishermen or knitting enthusiasts. I recently read about a man whose favorite pastime was visiting Dunkin’ Donuts shops and a woman whose hobby was spending time at the mall. So many of the departed were fans of the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics that I’ve often wondered if the organizations send sympathy cards or worry about losing fans to the great beyond.
I do take comfort in knowing most of the deceased will be “dearly missed,” if you believe their obituaries. I doubt the man who had a “crusty exterior although some people suspected he might possibly have had a softer side” was among them, however.
Have you thought about what you want your obituary to say? Would you write your own? Will it be a short story or a novel?