A vital but often underestimated precursor to the funeral is the obituary. It appears in the newspaper, provides salient facts including the place and time of the funeral (or memorial service) itself, and in general serves as an announcement that one who has lately been among us, is no more.
In some cases it is read aloud at the start of the funeral.
Once taken so seriously that it tended to be a lengthy, formal (if often floridly-written) affair, the pro forma piece of writing upon which fledgling journalists typically cut their teeth has sunk, in recent years, into a muddle of execrable spelling, grammar, syntax, and content.
Among the annoying aspects of the modern-day badly-composed, often-inane obit is the overwhelming need (or so it would seem) for the writer to characterize the deceased as simultaneously (and from birth) beautiful, intelligent, kind, generous, scrupulous, philanthropic, altruistic, and compassionate. No less (if no more) than God’s gift to humanity.
One with the ability to walk on water, grow a perfect garden, keep an inviting home, and cook a succulent five-course meal while maintaining a splendid sense of humor, optimistic outlook, and wholly unselfish motives. Always paying it forward, asking for nothing in return.
One who never met a stranger and from whom words of wisdom sprang like a freshet no matter what the circumstances. One who, from the day they were born, wanted nothing so much as to serve others regardless of race, creed, or differing views, resolve all conflict globally, mediate every dispute, and eventually bring about world peace.
In fact, so pronounced is the tendency to hose the obit down in treacle, that when folks stray off that sentiment-laden reservation and say what’s really on their minds about a dead person, it makes the news.
For example, when Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick died last year, two of her eight children conspired to write an obituary that can only be described as scathing.
We don’t suppose Mother’s Days were very happy occasions for this family.
On the bright side, even if Mrs. Johnson-Reddick’s aggrieved offspring do not succeed — per their stated life goal — in abolishing child abuse, at least they realized the rare accomplishment of producing a non-sugarcoated obituary. And how.
But as always in life, it is wise to seek — and stake our claim upon — a tablespoonful or so of middle ground.
Enter a refreshing alternative to the syrupy obituary: the self-obituary.
Sort of like the death selfie, if you will — only in words, not pictures.
James Rebhorn, a character actor whose face you will no doubt recognize even if you may not be able to recall exactly what he played in, died on March 21, 2014, at the age of 65. It was melanoma that eventually got him, after a 22-year battle.
Anticipating his demise, Mr. Rebhorn left words to be published as his obituary. And those words are worth reading.
Having read his humble self-eulogy ourselves several times, we can only conclude: Well done, Mr. Rebhorn — at least, as far as writing your own obituary goes. You are to be admired for your humility and eloquence in the face of your own impending exit. Whatever else your life did or did not entail, in that (no small) thing, you managed to be an example to us all.
But where to begin to write one’s own obituary? Many are intimidated at the prospect of writing a thank-you note, or even a shopping list. Give them the assignment of writing about their own lives, which words will be read by hundreds, maybe even thousands, after their death, and they may expire at the very thought.
According to helpful website How To Write, one of the main things to remember is that at x-number-of-dollars-per-column-inch, the wordier you are, the more it’s going to cost.
The article includes a wealth of other helpful information as well. Even if you don’t plan to write your own obit, pass the link on to whomever in your family or circle of acquaintances will most likely do the honors for you.
When the time comes, that is. And not a moment sooner.
Jennifer Weber is the owner of Angel Funeral Photography and Jennifer Weber Photography. When she’s not preoccupied with casual portraiture, funeral photography, or taking pictures in cemeteries just for fun, she blogs at I’m Having A Thought Here. She is active on Find A Grave, where she is known as AngelSeeker. She is also a contributor to American Cemetery & Cremation, an independent trade magazine to the death care industry. American Cemetery & Cremation is a product of Kates-Boylston Publications.