There are news obituaries, and then there are the classified ad obituaries. There is a difference!
The newspaper reporting staff has nothing to do with the classified obituary listings, which the family pays for. “It’s just like a garage sale notice that comes from the funeral home or the family,” said Carolyn Gilbert, founder of the International Association of Obituarists, an organization of professional obituary writers. “The classified obituaries are not fact-checked, but taken as presented with no professional writer involved.”
“So many people don’t have a clue about how the obituary actually appears. They kind of think that you die and God writes you an obituary and it gets in the newspaper,” said Gilbert. “They just don’t realize that there is a process and if that process is left to chance, then it is often written by a family member who is in terrible grief and has lots of decisions to make, or a funeral home person who’s filling in the blanks.”
It’s important to think in advance about what you want said in your obituary and write something down. “People want to avoid thinking about dying, except for the terribly maudlin people who think about it all the time, but most of us do not want to think about it. That’s why people put off doing their funeral plans and what’s going to be in the newspaper about them,” said Gilbert.
You can also write your own obit and instruct your loved ones to run it when the time comes. But, as Carolyn Gilbert pointed out, most folks don’t want to think about their own death. My father-in-law Norm fully intended to write his own obituary, but somehow never got around to it. The family opted to run a very basic newspaper obit prepared by the funeral director and left the specifics of his life to be spoken during the eulogies at the funeral. This was what ran in The Albuquerque Journal:
Norman Bleicher, 82, a resident of Albuquerque since 1995, died Tuesday, April 14, 2009. He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Myra Bleicher; son, David Bleicher and wife, Gail Rubin; son, Steven Bleicher and wife, Helaine Cohn; and brother, Philip Bleicher and wife, Juanita. He will also be missed by many friends. Services will be held on Thursday, April 16, 2009, 10:00 a.m., at Congregation Albert, 3800 Louisiana Blvd. NE. Interment will follow at Fairview Memorial Park, 700 Yale Blvd. SE.
Memorial contributions should be made to the Jane Goodall Institute, 4245 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 600, Arlington, VA 22203 or email@example.com. Please visit our online guestbook for Norman at RememberTheirStory.com. French, 111 University Blvd. NE, 505-843-6333
This obituary was simple and to the point. When death is preceded by a long illness, sometimes creativity takes a back seat to the specifics of naming family members and announcing the funeral.
My cousins asked me to help prepare an obit when my Uncle Arthur died suddenly, as they considered me the writer in the family. We incorporated information about his interests and professional life in a more detailed obituary. Here’s what ran in The Washington Post:
Arthur Steven Cohen, 75, died suddenly January 16 while playing a great game of tennis. A pharmacist who worked with Giant Food for 22 years, he was an avid player and collector of tennis memorabilia. A founding member of the Tennis Collectors of America, he belonged to the Aspen Hill Racquet Club for more than 30 years. For 20 years, his Nostalgia Ads business rescued old magazines for artwork and gifts. He leaves his loving wife of 49 years Muriel Cohen; children Scott Cohen and wife Laura, Florence Weiner and husband Mark, Jaye Cohen and wife Stephanie. He loved teaching tennis to his grandsons Hunter, Spencer, Benjamin, and Evan. Many good friends will miss him.
Funeral services will be held Monday, January 19 at 10:30 a.m. at Temple Emmanuel, 10101 Connecticut Avenue, Kensington, MD, followed by burial in King David Cemetery, Falls Church, VA. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the American Heart Association. The family will receive visitors at home Monday evening. Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home, 301-622-2290.
A paid obituary does not have to list the cause of death. Most news obits will list a cause of death, such as heart attack, cancer, stroke, an accident, etc. Remarkably, dying of old age doesn’t seem to count as a cause of death. In fact, old age cannot be listed on a death certificate as a cause of death. This adds to a general aversion to recognizing death as a natural part of the life cycle. When a story runs about someone over the age of 95 who has died, and no cause of death is listed, I often comment to my husband, “Gee, what do you suppose they died of?”
So, how can adult children extract information from their parents while they’re still able to convey stories? It can be difficult to get all the details right in a short period of time. I can send you an Obit News Bits Form that provides a place to collect details about schooling, work, interests, membership in organizations, hobbies, military service, etc.
Getting information about these areas of life can also guide you toward individuals who may want to know about the death in the family whom you may not automatically think to call. You don’t need to use all the information collected, but it’s better to have it than not. Drop me a comment or email Gail_Rubin@comcast.net if you’d like to get the form!