Yesterday I had a little free time and naturally gravitated to the local small town bookstore. I noticed The Dead Beat, (or Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries) by Marilyn Johnson. It was billed as a “survey both humorous and poignant of the wonders enfolded in the pages of an ordinary newspaper” with many other accolades and so I couldn’t resist, especially with such an interesting Appendix in the back that included other obituary resources on the web. For instance, did you know there was an International Association of Obituarists? I didn’t. Or that some of the most interesting tributes in the author’s view come from, of all places, The Economist? And I think I found a new link for my sidebar, The Blog of Death which sounds completely out of wack until you visit. They even have a very touching obit on the famous racehorse Barbaro, the 3 year old winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby. His owners received literally thousands of sympathy cards.
I know if you’re over a certain age reading the obit page becomes a kind of habit. On the other hand, if you’ve ever had to write an obituary you know how difficult it can be. Just saying “nevermore” is not an option. Even starting the first sentence summing up a great deal of that person’s life is not only painful but seemingly impossible. Plus you are usually doing it under duress. As “the writer” in the family I was delegated to do it for my parents. Legacy.com still has them for me to read for a price. I just wish I’d done a better job in hindsight.
Think about it. Having the deceased thoughtfully leave you one they’ve written for themselves happens so rarely it’s worth mentioning. What would you say about yourself? Do you fancy yourself a writer of any sort? Save your left behind friends and family some heartache. Here are the steps: write it down! Put it in an envelope with your insurance papers. Or if you’re interested in hearing how the pros would like to see a new business model for obits, and the research of one news writer in particular, here’s an article from the Poynter Institute, Let’s Breathe Some New Life Into Obituaries.
(p.s. I couldn’t resist. Here is a rendition of Christopher Walken reading the Edgar Allan Poe poem, The Raven, with many incongruous background noises (including some very strange electric guitar) off an equally strange CD. I’m a big fan of Walken. He does so many cool weird things.)