We are not templates. We are not notices cropped into a small box in the corner of a long-forgotten newspaper. We are not the names of people we have left behind. We laugh. We weep. We love. We are brave and we are afraid. We are charming, yet surly, and grumpy, yet loving. We are plumbers, teachers, housewives, CEOs, nurses, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. We leave behind more than a closet of clothes, a collection of never-used wedding day china, tools, books, a stack of old National Geographics, and some well-worn furniture, all neatly labeled and priced for an estate sale.
We are human. We have stories. We have legacy. All those Thanksgivings, every one of our terrible, dried-out turkeys, every TV ref at whom we ever screamed, every birthday where we drank a bit too much, every baby we held, every dog we ever walked, every sidewalk we shoveled for a neighbor: these are the moments that give us life. And these are the moments which give us life after death. These are the stories that will be told, shared, and shared again, maybe even years later. These words, these words of ours, these stories we create, spoken or read, they keep us immortal. They have the power to bring us back to life, to center us in conversation, to share us with those who know us well, or those we have never met. Our stories are life giving. Our stories are powerful. Our stories create laughter, they bring smiles, and they evoke tears. Even when there is nothing, even when we cease to exist, our stories survive.
Obituaries are not about death. Obituaries are about life. And they should celebrate life, not mourn death. One’s obituary should speak clearly and passionately to the reader in one’s own voice. So, instead of steering your clients to a generic template-based obituary, nudge them to create something more unique and more personal, something they will treasure and cherish for years to come. Even those clients who do not regularly write can use these easy strategies to create an obituary which has much more impact than a flowery death notice.
• Collect stories. Create a story of someone’s life by collecting stories. Tell your clients to ask friends, family, and colleagues to recount their favorite stories of the beloved in order to assemble the obituary. There are no rules. Obituaries are not five paragraph essays. Your clients can craft an obituary which is simply an assortment of anecdotes.
• List favorites. Begin putting together a life narrative by listing the beloved’s favorite things. Yes, it’s just like the song. Instead of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, one may have enjoyed football on Sundays and short skirts on cheerleaders (kindly see Humor, below). Or, watching classic films and eating popcorn, drinking coffee and doing a crossword, and even, fishing all day, every day, and tossing them all back. A simple list definitely constitutes a true obituary.
• List passions. Just like naming favorites, creating a list of the beloved’s passions is an easy and interesting way to celebrate their life. Deeper than favorites, a list of passions may include activities like volunteering with children, church service, pro bono legal work, running marathons, or collecting salt and pepper shakers. Even a list of fragments presents a more accurate picture of someone than an obituary template.
• Describe exceptional moments. Celebrate distinctions. Perhaps the beloved is a war veteran, an ICU nurse, a teacher, or any other kind of everyday hero. Compiling a collection of moments that define the beloved’s character and illustrate their life also makes for a compelling obituary.
• Contextualize disappointments. Describe the beloved’s disappointments. Much like being exceptional, our greatest disappointments often define our remarkable nature. Instruct your clients not to be afraid to mention those moments that made their beloved human: the death of a loved one or pet, bankruptcy, illness, or disaster. Sometimes, success and greatness can be determined by how one weathers life’s many disappointments.
• Humor. Above all, a celebration is about laughter. There is nothing that feels better than remembering a loved one through a smile. Tell your clients not to fear relating their beloved’s quirks or temperament through humor. As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. FBA
Petra Lina Orloff is president and CEO of Beloved, which produces custom, personalized, handcrafted obituaries and eulogies. She has been a professional writer for over 20 years and also completed the PhD program in English at Wayne State University in Detroit, where she taught literature and cultural studies. You may contact her at [email protected], or at (248) 894-7076, or visit www.beloved-press.com.