Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer and never plan to write for publication, chances are you will someday have to write an obituary for someone you’ve loved and lost.
I know this, because last week I wrote an obit for my dad. Six years earlier, I wrote one for my mom.
While I included the usual details of where they each were born, what they did for their livings, and where and when they died, their lives were a great deal richer than a collection of biographical facts.
Collect the Facts
Since it’s entirely possibly that you’ll be a blubbery mess when the time comes, you’ll want to collect all the facts about your subject before you start writing. Professional obit writers keep files on famous people for when the time comes. You might want to start a file now on those for whom you expect to write an obituary. You also might want to create a document with such details about yourself and file it along with your Advance Care Plan, your Last Will and Testament, the key to your Safe Deposit Box, and a list of your passwords, to make it easier for your survivors to tie up lose ends.
Consider Your Audience
Next, just as in writing anything else, you must consider your audience. The obit you write for the local paper may emphasize someone’s community service, whereas the one you send to a professional organization’s publication will narrate the arc of the person’s career. Make it easy on yourself: write a master obit with a paragraph for each section. This makes it easy to cut and paste shorter versions to the different places where an obit is likely to appear.
Make it Meaningful
Then consider what made this person’s life worth living. For most of us, our obituary will appear in the local paper one day and line the litter box the next, but readers will always remember a story. Tell stories about this person’s one wild and precious life.
Links to Worksheets
Here’s a link to three examples, each for the same fictional person. I wrote these examples for a workshop I taught on obituary writing. The first is just the bare minimum: Who died, where, when and how (optional). The second is Standard Vanilla, with the usual details and not a whole lot more. The third gives you more detail and more flavor of the person who didn’t just die, but who lived – and how.
And here’s a link to a worksheet to help you gather the facts you’ll want to have on hand.
Having the Last Word
How do you want to be remembered? Try writing your own obituary – one draft if you died today and another if you live to be one hundred. Then figure out how to make the second one come true.
Blessings to you all, ~Deborah.