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Monday, May 31, 2010

If You Are Alive...

“If You Are Alive Today, You Need An Obituary!”

By Carolyn Gilbert

It is an odd topic of conversation for the living…but an impossible topic of conversation for those who have gone to their ultimate destination. Unlike funereal or burial planning, obituary planning can be fun! Just think of it,  rather than having some stuffy writer who probably will never have heard of you write your parting legacy, you and/or the writer of your choice can produce the obituary yourselves. An added benefit is, of course, that you as subject can give your final approval, as it were, to the document. In addition, you can select the photo you like best to accompany the obituary. All that is missing is the date and cause of death. This information is fill-in-the-blank stuff.

If this entire subject seems a bit weird to you, I implore you to stay with me as I build my case for the advancer obituary not just for the rich and famous but also for the average Joe or Jane. How many times have you read the obituary page and wondered (1.) why the obituary didn’t really reflect the person’s life and (2.) why on earth they ran that photo! The answer to both, in most cases, is simply a lack of planning. However, to be perfectly honest, most people don’t realize that they themselves can control their obituary destiny.

Who among us would voluntarily settle down with pen in hand to compose this ultimate short story—the obituary—to be distributed far and wide upon our demise? On the other hand, who among us would voluntarily leave such an important piece of family history to strangers?

Once you are over the hurdle of obituary awareness, go with me to the next step. The obituary enjoys a unique place in one’s personal history and family genealogy as well as in history of the community-at-large. Any genealogist or history buff will tell you how critical the obituary becomes in matters of research. The more factual and informative the obituary, the more complete the picture of the culture and generation of the life described.

If the obituary is a mere listing of date of birth, date of death and survivors, it serves a shallow purpose, indeed. In fact, this is merely a death notice and not an obituary. Unfortunately, this is the prevailing format for the ill-prepared or uninformed.

In defense of the basic obituary, it is often a matter of timing that affects the quality of the obituary. Most traditions lean toward a very quick turnaround for the announcement of death and the obituary. At a time when the family is deep in grief and shock, there are so many important decisions to be made that the obituary often gets lost in the maze.

The increases in cremations and memorial services to be held in the weeks or months following the actual death give more time for the development of the ultimate obituary or memorial. This relieves some of the tension regarding timelines and distribution of the obituary.

But why leave this to chance? The obituary is actually a gift to one’s family—prepared by the leading character. It has long been a practice for writers to prepare the “advancer” obituary for persons of prominence or infamy.

After all, we revel in the well-written obituary for public figures. We love to learn vicariously of the little-known pieces of the life puzzle of movie stars, elected officials or villains. In most cases, seasoned obituary writers know how to approach their subjects for that sensitive “advancer” interview. However, it has been reported that on occasion the writer will request the interview without fully revealing the real purpose. The result has been that on completion of the interview the subject will be very anxious to know just when the “article” is going to run! Guess that depends, doesn’t it?

At any rate, it is important for us mere mortals to realize that we, too, can be sure that our obituary is done in advance with accuracy and thoughtfulness.
It is amazing how time-consuming it is to compile the exact names, dates and references to one’s life experiences. Even the experienced writer is challenged to produce a meaningful obituary at a moment’s notice.

Do yourself and your family a favor by at least making an outline of life events, relatives, accomplishments, and other important components of your life. With a smile, we refer to this document as the Obit Kit: a sort of do-it-yourself obituary kit to be used when the time comes!

My favorite self-written obituary begins with these words:

"If you are reading this now, I must be dead!"

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