Sunday, July 21, 2013

Last Words Can Mean So Much

By Kimberly Johnson

The other day, at lunch, a friend of mine asked me how to write an obituary. We were eating at McAlister’s in Forest Acres. The place was pretty crowded and I wasn’t sure I heard him clearly. He repeated it and chewed on his club sandwich cautiously.  In a split second, a couple thoughts flashed through my mind: “(a) he must be really grief-stricken, and (b) why did he ask me?” To me, an obituary is a highly personal thing. I had to write one for my aunt, for my father and for my grandmother. So, after sipping some lemonade, I said:  “Just write from the heart. The rest will come to you.” My friend slightly persisted, “I want a Homegoing service that reflects the memory of my momma, not the staid stuff from the funeral home. I want the words to mean something.”

Back at work, I stared at my computer screen. Another thought entered my mind: Is there a formal way to write an obituary? That’s a heavy question. And I narrowed my search and found out, yes. Definition: An obituary is a news article that reports the person’s death, personal information and funeral information. Or, it can be the life story of the deceased in the funeral program. Text/layout and design: There are websites that provide templates. There are websites that restate what the funeral home staff explains. There are websites that provide instructions. Here’s one I liked: “Show, rather than tell. Show that the person was charitable by actual examples. Show with interesting stories, rather than telling with just dry facts.” (www. Cultural notes: My friend wants a Homegoing Service. It’s a phrase used in the African American community to celebrate the life and achievements of the deceased.

Alana Baranick, a newspaper obituary writer echoes the same sentiment I encountered, and soon my friend will face: “Summing up a life is an awesome responsibility.” 

1 comment:

Laura Puccia Valtorta said...

I used to write obituaries for my local hometown newspaper. It was my first real job, not including cashiering at the P&C supermarket. In those days, the newspaper wrote the obituary. The benefit of that was all important information was included -- date and place of birth, date of death, survivors. Date of the funeral. Career of the deceased. These days, with family members writing the obituaries, they often leave out one of the key elements.

I enjoyed writing the basic facts and then adding some interesting points at the end.