I just completed writing my father’s obituary. He passed away peacefully in his home recently at the age of 90.
No one ever looks forward to composing a loved one’s obituary. The process is laden with emotional pain. Some may even view it as unbearably maudlin, an act they’d avoid at all costs, like a heart double-bypass surgery.
I actually found the exercise to be incredibly healing. After weeks of being immersed in Dad’s death, I was able to focus on his well-lived life. I imagined my folks skating around the roller rink hand-in-hand as young teenagers. I vividly recalled the elementary schools where he was principal. I heard him playing his mandolin.
Obituaries are the ultimate example of the big picture. They highlight a loved one’s defining themes and downplay the minutiae of daily living. They encourage us to rise above the irritants and disappointments that contaminate our relationships and view loved ones through an accepting, compassionate lens.
Of course, obituaries can give a one-sided viewpoint. Sometimes serious flaws are swept under the rug. Grandma’s wicked tongue is never mentioned. Uncle’s alcoholism doesn’t see print. But an obituary’s purpose is not to focus on these issues; rather, it’s to celebrate what we got right.
Writing an obituary is especially important if there has been trauma or drama surrounding the loved one’s final days. Although that can be overwhelming, we should focus on our loved one’s entire life and let go of the angst and turmoil that we’re experiencing at the time.
Writing Dad’s obituary has made me somehow more human. I join countless generations before me who have grieved the death of parents, children and loved ones. Some of those deaths have been expected, even welcome. Others were horribly tragic. I now reluctantly take my place in that lineup. And I’m better for having done so.
TIPS FOR OBITUARIES
Give a biographical sketch. Briefly outline the important events, qualities and contributions of the person’s life.
Capture the descendant’s essence. Focus on six words that best describe your loved one. Make sure those key concepts come through in the obituary.
Make it lively. Use personal examples to illustrate the deceased’s personality and accomplishments.
Thank others who were helpful. You may wish to thank those who took care of your loved one in the final days. You may also wish to thank someone special who contributed to the deceased’s happiness over the years.
Decide how many family members to include. This is especially relevant in the “Preceded in death by” section. Do you include grandparents? Step-families? Aunts and uncles? Remember, if you name one, you’ll need to name them all.
Provide service information. Tell others of the date, time and place of any upcoming funeral services.
Use photos. Photos add to the cost of the obituary. But they’re a pleasant reminder of the person you miss and they help readers identify with the announcement.