Recently I helped write an obituary for my mother-in-law, and it occurred to me that perhaps it should be a daily exercise, something that could force you to take stock of yourself, friends or enemies.
Imagine the catharsis of coming home from work and writing, “Bob McKorkle, supervisor of Eastern Meats, died today after a lifetime of shorting paychecks, skimming the books and harassing long-time employees into retirement. A friend called him a ‘pillow of the community,’ for his proclivity for extra-marital affairs.”
Fun, right? While libel laws and family values generally prevent this sort of thing, it’s cheap therapy nonetheless.
A good obituary captures the epic sweep of a person’s life while also compressing it into its essential flavor, not unlike a reduction sauce. My first read in the New York Times used to be the obits, particularly to see if Robert McG. Thomas, Jr., had written one like this:
“Edward Lowe, whose accidental discovery of a product he called Kitty Litter made cats more welcome household company and created a half-billion-dollar industry, died on Wednesday at a hospital in Sarasota, Fla.”
Readers went on to discover that this invention is credited for making cats more popular than dogs as pets in American homes. Damn him.
A clever obit writer can enhance his craft and get around a stodgy editor with unsuspecting hyperlinks.
“Eustus Franklin Franklin, a deacon in a local service organization, was found by his Lord and Savior after He searched for him among several cells at Central Prison.”
I don’t know why people leave their own obit in the hands of amateurs, or worse, the funeral home. Was your life so unremarkable that all you have to show for it is a college degree and associating with like-minded people? Weren’t you the woman who taught kids to swim and hiked every mountain in North Carolina? Or snorted an oyster through your nose every New Year’s Eve?
A newspaper obit will be the last impression people have of you, and the one of record. It’s the version of your life that people will email to others or post on Facebook. You should make sure it’s the right one by writing it yourself.
An unintended consequence of writing your own obit might be that you reflect back and say, “Heck, I’m a selfish, narcissistic jerk that hasn’t contributed squat to the community and have nothing to show for my life.” Imagine all of the charities that could benefit from such an exercise.
Okay, I’ll start:
“Mark Barroso, proud father and loving husband whose accomplishments are too many to mention here, died today during his yearly visit to an exercise class while some god-awful dance music played in the background instead of his beloved Van Morrison, as he had requested in an obit he had published at Chapelboro.com.”