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. obituaryguide.com) 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.”