One of the first writing assignments you learn in journalism is writing obituaries. As morbid as it may sound you need to write quickly, consolidate and quickly with meaning. Yes, you have to practice by writing your own.
When you are in your late teens and 20s, it’s hard to imagine what your family and public will value. Today’s memorial of Michael Jackson made me pontificate what an obituary should contain. Fact versus. fiction. Myth versus reality. News of the weird. Keep an element of surprise?
Having lost my Mother last November I found writing her obituary very difficult. How can you summarize anyone’s life of nearly 80s into less than 200 words?
She was a wonderful mother, wife, sister and care giver. She never made a number one hit or moon walked across the stage but to me she was my superstar. She raised four girls and helped so many people with charitable ways. She embraced life and life embraced her. She inspired me to be the best I can be. She even suggested business ideas that have been very wise long term. When she became ill she fought like only a fighting Irish women would—all the way. I admire her strength during that time and think it was this strength that made her a super hero in my entire life.
Again, how do you summarize this in an obit and make sense?
Yes, you can write more than the allocated free words if you pay. Basically obituaries are sold like advertising space and that cheapens the column in my opinion. Staying up very late several days I wrote and then rewrote the obituary only realizing that only 1000 words would do. Also, a live dedication and celebration of life versus loss would suffice at her funeral.
Likewise, watching the recaps of Michael Jackson’s memorial at Staples Center I realized that a person’s memorial tribute is one place it’s ok to over indulge. This is the last rite of passage. It is a time to honor versus dishonor. It’s a time to weep and realize we are not immortal. It’s also a time to reflect on Journalism 101 classes and writing your obituary. What do you want others to remember you for and what will you be remembered for? Have you ever tried writing your obit?
So be kind, be wise, be smart and above all make a difference each day.