Monday, January 4, 2010

Obit Tidbits

Do you read the obits? I can remember snickering at my parents as they scanned through the Sunday paper to see if they knew anyone who died that week. I was thinking something like “get a life” – that probably wasn’t the expression in the early 60s but I’m sure the thought was similar.

Newspaper obituaries, as we know them today, really got started back in the 1800s when someone from the London Times got the bright idea they could make money selling print space to announce the passing of influential citizens. In the 1900s the obit section was popular with people from all walks of life and began to include more elaborate details than just names and dates. And now, we have the internet age and obits have a lot more content, photos and the occasional video. While obituaries are often an inadequate attempt to summarize 70 or 80 years of personal history in just a few words, they do serve as a good insight to the cultural of the time and have proven to be invaluable as research material for genealogists.

Reading the obits must be an age-related thing because now that I’m a little older, I do occasionally peek in on the obit page, very much aware that people younger than I am have already passed on. I’ve noticed lately that obits for the “common man” seem to have a standard format with “survived by,” “preceded in death by” and a list of affiliations. I realized a few years back that with no sibs, no children, no grandchildren, no affiliations and only one spouse that I needed to start generating some filler material for my obit. I suppose there’s still time for a couple more spouses but it seems easier to just work on the list of affiliations.

Some life planning seminars suggest that we write our own obituaries. The reasoning is that it’s a gift to the family to have this task out of the way, and, if you do it yourself, you get to decide how you’ll be remembered.

I think I’ll get my draft obit started as a New Year’s resolution. Maybe it will show up on the blog someday – hopefully, way off in the future.

A. Reader

A note from the editor:

A few things: (1) I have already done what A. Reader suggests, but I'm not sure the proper party will be able to find it when the time comes. I can't even remember where I left it. (2) I find myself checking the obits in my college alumni magazine. When my father (same name) passed away, my law school alumni mag mistakenly reported that it had been me who had died. A friend called my office to inquire of my partners about my death and I answered the phone. Imagine that! (3) Reader submitted pieces like this are encouraged, whether it be news, gossip, opinion or your own obituary.


Pam Geisel - For Quilts Sake said...

Since I live adjacent to a cemetery, I check the obits to see if we're getting any new "neighbors." I've been startle by the 21 gun salute a few times.

Kay Reimers said...

You know you're getting older when not only do you read the obits, you turn it into a social occasion. Call your people up, ask "didn't so-and-so's grandfather own the tavern for while?". With the right group of friends, you can pull together their entire family tree.