Friday, March 4th, 2011

Writing Prompt – Write Your Own Obituary

When you get hired at a newspaper, one of the first things you’re asked to do is write your own obituary.

This serves two purposes: while your co-workers are grieving, they’ve got a story in hand which should need little editing and can be run immediately. It also gives you something to do if there’s no immediate news to go chasing after.

Writing your own obituary also saves your family members the trouble…and you get to say the things you want to be remembered for, instead of what someone else thinks. (Mom’s proudest moment of you, might not jive with your own.)

Your obituary should be accurate, lively and memorable. It is, after all, the story of your life.

At a minimum, an obituary serves only as a death notice, containing the barest of facts: your full name and birth date, your age at death, where you lived and your place of death. It may or may not include how you died. It may or may not include information about a service.

A longer obituary (still, really, a death notice) will include service information. It may include the name of your spouse and children, your parents (noting if they predeceased you) and perhaps information about a memorial fund, scholarship or donation to a cause you support.

A true obituary will contain much more, and that’s what we’re striving for here. It will include all of the above information, as well as the details of your schooling; degrees, awards and other recognition; your marriage(s); military service; employment; and life note: stories, satisfactions, hobbies, interests, charity, fraternal/political/other affiliations, positions held, achievements, etc.

Here’s a good obituary template. Note the information included, but re-write it in a style that suits your life.

Tips for Writing Your Obituary:

  1. Make Sure the Document is Accurate – check your dates against official records, if possible. Make certain names (including those of schools attended and home towns) are spelled accurately.
  2. Celebrate the Life, Not the Death – even though an obituary is a death notice, focus on what you accomplished, rather than on how you died.
  3. An Obituary Can Be Humorous – Death is sad, but don’t let grief overshadow life, especially if you’re a funny person. Let us in on the joke.
  4. Show, Don’t Tell – (I’ll bet you weren’t expecting to see this on the list.) Were you a strong supporter of your community? Don’t tell us that. Show us by describing that you knitted hats for preemies for all the local hospitals, picked up trash on Main Street every summer weekend and still coached little league, even though your kids have moved away and have kids of their own.
  5. Avoid cliches and abbreviations.
  6. A Quick Note About Identity Theft – This is less of an issue for the deceased than it is the living, even though it’s possible to be scammed after death. If you’re writing your own obit (or that of someone else who is still alive) don’t publish it on the internet. Maiden names, birth dates, hometowns and team mascots are among the most often chosen for passwords. Be safe.
  7. Here’s Your Prompt: Write your obit. If you’re uncomfortable seeing your own death notice, write the obit of a fictional character, but use your own life’s information. If you still can’t do it, write the obituary of a deceased relative or friend.

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