About a month ago I told you about how the history of everyday, non-famous people appears regularly in the obituary columns. I suggested that the authors of those personal histories are widows, widowers, children, significant others and friends. I indicated that many of those histories are better than life, some omit embarrassing details and some cut no slack at all.
What was not included in the discussion was obituaries written by the deceased himself or herself while he or she was still living.
The self-written obituary is an opportunity to include everything you’d want people to know and remember about you. Also, an opportunity to omit, explain or cover up what you’d like to skip, a chance to spin your history to your own taste.
I picked up the paper recently and found the obituary of a stranger that included a picture about four times the size of a regular obit picture and a story that covered about half a page -– top to bottom and side to side. I decided this must be a very famous person, so I studied it in detail several times. The first thing I decided was that it was written by the man himself.
I knew that he’d wrote it because it contained details nobody else would have known, like when he was in grade school, he was safety patrol captain. Really? A safety patrol caption? He was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout and got good grades. The article went on to detail his fraternity life in college, his scholarships, and his employment history through five jobs and careers, his hobbies, travels and tracing his ancestors to Norway (1690s), Ireland (1800s) and Germany (1750s). I knew he had never been president of his high school science club or it would have been included in his history.
The thing is, the family has to pay the paper for running the picture and the obituary. The longer it is, the more it will cost.
So, the danger of writing your own obituary and writing about all of your magnificent achievements is that your family will have to consider whether telling your sparkling history is worth the cost. I know of one situation where the husband wrote an obituary that bragged at length about his life and career and, when he died, his widow, considering funeral expenses and the pressure of making arrangements and discussions, elected to save the money the obituary would cost. There was no obituary. Zero. A hard decision, I’m sure.
So, the moral of the story for those of us who may die someday is that we’re probably not as important as we think we are and to leave our obituaries to someone more objective, or, if we write our own, to skip the school safety patrol honor and other details. Life is short and so should be our obituary.