The Art of the Obituary

In September of this year, I took up the task of writing my mother’s obituary.  She passed away on June 28 from complications due to advanced Alzheimer’s at the age of 94. Previously I had never written an obituary .

An obituary announces the passing of a person’s death as a public notice in a newspaper, church bulletin, or the like.  Usually, there is a brief biography and a photo, but everything else is up to the writer’s interpretation.  An obituary can be solemn, funny, traditional, or even in poetic form.  Writing Mom’s obituary begged the question ”What should be said about a loved one when they pass?”  What was their essence? What was their legacy?

I didn’t like the idea of writing the 3rd person like a detached narrator so I made it clear this was from the viewpoint of her surviving adult children.  I had to keep in mind that obituaries can be very expensive in major newspapers.  Ultimately, my mother’s average-sized obituary at approximately 1000 words cost over $1000 in the San Fransico Chronicle for one run.  Her local paper for the same obituary cost $300 with 4 courtesy copies thrown in with the deal. (non were included with the Chronicle). So yes, a lot of money but hey, you only die once and everyone deserves memorialization. In most cases, like in my mother’s, the deceased estate covers it.

It was therapeutic for me, the author, to cut through all my mother’s foibles as we had our differences and honor her- her accomplishments and her legacy, I also decided to mention some of her hardships growing up. Hardship is a pivotal force in a person’s life.  I could see how her challenges as a child reflected in her parenting.  In her last years with her memory loss, all that friction washed away like dust in the first rain of fall. It was an honor to summarize her life for all to see.

As for the picture?  Rather than one from her youth, I chose one that was taken on her 80th birthday looking radiant with the celebration. 

Having written my mother’s obituary, I wonder about my own.  What would be written when all is said and done?  I have considered writing my own and leaving it in my will giving me some authorship.  I should include such things as

She liked to start her day with a steaming up of tea in her hand sitting up in bed with her pens & journal with a clear view of the bird feeder.

Felt complete with a dog and or a cat at her side

Liked to take adventures in the wilds, as well as  in art, writing, and music

I’d like the picture of me taken by my friend Deb we were out on the Zumwalt Prairie in 2021. Then I would choose one of my doodles to be included.

Now I may be tasked with writing my step-daughter, Heather who recently passed.  For this, I would solicit the help of her many friends to contribute their thoughts for a young woman who lived very large for her 38 years.  This is a challenge I would be honored to take up.

As I think of the many people that have passed from my life this year, I also think of the other beings, favorite trees, dogs, cats, and the like that have crossed the rainbow bridge that I could memorialize.  They certainly are deserving of an obituary as well, at least in my personal writing.  I’m inspired by this worthy genre.

Two good friends that passed on this last spring- Hilma Kaye and G.D Armstrong whose spirit lives on in my guitar…

8 thoughts on “The Art of the Obituary

  1. When my dad passed, the funeral director who was a friend, wrote up a small notice for the nearby paper. My father would have thought it was ridiculous to pay that much for an obituary just to tell folks he died. So I didn’t post one. And it was during a covid surge so I didn’t have a funeral. He was cremated so no burial. I have a trip to plan to scatter some of his ashes but my husband is in the middle stages of dementia and isn’t good with traveling more than 3-4 days at a time. So.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think publishing an obituary is personal for everyone. My mother, thankfully, had ample funds to cover the cost. I could’ve made hers a lot shorter or even kept it local but I know she would’ve liked having more of a comprehensive story in both papers. Ultimately, the way we memorialize a loved one’s life is for the living. For me writing this obituary was a form of closure to sit down and write about my mother’s life and then make it public.

      Times have been truly tough and we do what we can. I am deeply sorry about your husband and wish you strength on this journey.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There are plenty of funds to cover the cost, he was a very humble man would have thought it a waste of money. He would rather I used the money on a trip or art lessons or something else that would enrich my life, which is what I have done.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Alanna – Do you have a specific email that you’d like Heather thoughts sent to? If so, I can publish it on the WetWesties list/FB page and I’m sure that you’ll get lots of remembrances for the obit.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Allana, this is such a beautiful post. The obit was personal and tender. You did an excellent job. I liked your idea of writing part of your own obit. I have been going through (and finally completed) my Advance Directive (living will) and have been thinking about my own service, what music I would like to have and such. I want to write a poem (because that’s what I write!) for the service but maybe for the obit as well like your doodles.

    Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. You have inspired me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback Luann. People don’t tend to talk about this kind of thing and I decided to take a risk. I think it’s healthy to think about how one wants their life memorialized. In doing so I think we live more intentionally in the present!

      Liked by 1 person

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