How to write the perfect obituary, according to professional writers

NBC News Lifestyle 2 months ago

I’m the writer in my family, which means that I am offered a great deal of unpaid work from my loved ones. If someone’s kid is applying for colleges, chances are high I’ll get an email asking if I have time to edit (i.e., completely rewrite) their personal essay. I’m also frequently paged to help with wedding toasts, job applications and dating profiles. Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of saying no, and usually politely decline most of these solicitations for free editorial assistance, unless someone is asking for help with an obituary or eulogy. When it comes to composing or honing one’s words of remembrance, I’m almost always ready to lend a pen.

Why am I so eager to donate my time to this rather morbid type of writing? On one hand, it’s because, having written eulogies for loved ones, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to think clearly when grieving, and I imagine that, if you’re not used to writing every day, the task of crafting an obit can be mighty daunting; but my interest in eulogistic composition also stems from my fascination with the fact that in the end, we all become stories. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, sure, but also: words to words. Writing doesn’t get much more meaningful than that, and there’s nothing quite so moving as an obituary that truly captures and honors the spirit of the deceased.

Earlier this week, thousands of readers were blown away by an obit that did just that and then some. The obituary of 82-year-old Connecticuter Joe Heller, penned by his daughter Monique Heller, was praised as the “best obituary ever” by The New York Times, which also profiled Heller’s “wacky” funeral, a casual affair that saw his coffin carried off in a vintage Mack fire truck.

Monique Heller was unsparing in her remembrance of her father as a penny-pinching prankster, a hoarder with a soft spot for dogs (whom he gave hilariously vulgar names) and a “consummate napper” who spurned suits and snobbery. It’s possibly the funniest obituary ever to make the rounds online, and yet it is also incredibly loving and informative. The reader is given interesting facts about Heller’s life — like that he was a self-taught chemist, a volunteer firefighter and a Navy veteran. The reader is also provided essential details about Heller’s memorial service, where to send donations, and who survives him — but even these particulars are delivered in a sportive spirit of fun-poking and wit.

I never met Joe Heller, but boy, I wish I had. I also hope that if I’m ever responsible for writing the obit of someone very close to me that I can do half as good a job, because this obit, as Hannah Sentenac, a freelance writer who specializes in obituaries says, is “legendary.”

“I was incredibly impressed that it was written by a family member and not a professional writer, although it makes sense given the incredible level of detail and personal insight,” says Sentenac. “I think the fact that this went viral speaks to the fact that people don't want ‘traditional’ obituaries; they want humor, flair, wit, personality.”

Katharine Blossom Lowrie, owner/writer at The Précis, a provider of obituary and eulogy services, was also impressed by Heller’s obituary, and shared it on her site for prospective clients to read.

“I intend to urge future clients to read [Heller’s obit] before filling out their forms so they can see the possibilities, the humor, the beauty of telling the truth about someone,” Lowrie says.

Susan Shain, a freelance writer who provides obituary writing services is in agreement with writers Lowrie and Sentenac (along with pretty much everyone who reads it), that Joe Heller’s obituary is wonderful, adding that it accomplishes what all obits should by being “unafraid to let the person’s personality shine.”

How can we compose similarly fantastic obituaries for our own dearly departed friends and family, or even for ourselves ahead of our final days?

We’ve compiled a list of tips that the pros recommend.

Even the most sensational obituaries should include key details about the person’s life and death. First, you’ll want to include the person’s name, birth place, age, date of death, location and cause of death (optional). From there, Shain says you should go on to include other biographical staples such as “whether they got married, had kids, [details of] their careers and retirement.” You’ll also want to share the names and relationships of who survives the deceased, and finally, include the details of the memorial service, where to send flowers or donations and any other must-know information for mourners. The recitation of these details can feel a bit cold and clinical, but it’s important to have the basics down. Free online obituary templates can help serve as a checklist here.

Emma Goss, an eyewitness news reporter for Bakersfield Now and former producer at NBC News, has written obituaries for celebrities, beloved community members and, strange as it sounds, for famous people who aren’t yet deceased. Goss’s most practical tip is to “write in the present tense and change it to the past tense later.” This approach can help you “feel like you’re really connecting to who you’re writing about,” Goss says, adding that you can also benefit from a first draft in letter form. “Deliver it like you’re writing it to their husband or wife or best friend. Tell them something [positive] that they may not have known.”

Part of what makes Heller obituary so lovely is that it gives you all the staple information of a traditional obit, but functions more as a eulogy, with tons of anecdotes and character. To write an obit like this, narrow in on your clearest memories.

“What are the first words that come to mind when you think of the person [who has passed]?” asks Shain. “What are some stories that demonstrate those qualities? It's a good idea to talk to other family members because you will jog each other's memories. See what other people remember — that’s a really good place to start.

Sentenac stresses not to be shy when it comes to recalling “funny stories, mishaps or eccentricities. Sometimes those kinds of things best represent a person's life.”

Sentenac shares some questions she asks her clients when crafting an obit for their loved ones:

Also fodder for thought: “How would they want to be remembered? And how will they be genuinely remembered by those who loved them? It's a dance between the two,” says Sentenac.

Joe Heller’s obit has numerous LOL moments, which works for his obituary because he was an infamous jokester, but humor may not be suitable for the obit you’re writing.

“If someone is more serious, more traditional, I don’t use humor at all,” says Shain.

Additionally, one’s death may just be too tragic for a jocular obituary. Goss recounts writing the obit of a 10-year-old boy who died after a heart transplant went awry. There’s just no way to make that obit hilarious, nor should there be. It’s okay for the obit to be short and to the point with just a few lines about the remarkable impressions the departed one has left on the world.

“Use your own judgment about what's appropriate,” says Sentenac. “If you knew the person well, chances are you'll be able to assess the tone and style that would suit them.”

Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram


Source link
Read also:
CBS News › 1 month ago
At ObitCon, members of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers talk about the privilege of honoring lives well-lived. Mo Rocca reports on the annual gathering of obit writers, and their awards ceremony, where they hand out the Grimmys
The Sun › 1 month ago
THE Washington Post has been mocked after its obituary for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi described the terrorist as an “austere religious scholar”. The headline – which has been changed – spawned a host of obituary parodies on Twitter in the wake of al...
Business Insider › Entertainment › 1 week ago
Cards Against Humanity just upped the stakes with its latest Black Friday challenge, as it pits its writers against artificial intelligence in a competition to decide the fate of its employees jobs. The company has repeatedly satirized the popular...
The Hill › Incident › 1 week ago
A man who told an immigrant to "go back" to his country and then spit in his face has been ordered to write a 500-word essay, according to prosecutors.Harold Eugene Denson III will have to write the essay after ple...
Cleveland › 3 days ago
Students in Write About Now, a program for teenage writers with cleveland.com and Lake Erie Ink, said they are more confident about expressing their ideas and more interested in journalism after the 10-week program.
The Sun › Lifestyle › 1 month ago
GERMAN TV producers have drafted in a team of British comedy writers and actors — because they cannot write a funny show themselves. They have recruited 50 Brits to put together what they hope will be a prime-time hit in a nation which has struggled...
Concord Monitor › Entertainment › 1 month ago
Some couples seem to be perfect for each other, but can any relationship achieve perfection? Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tim Scott believes that his wife, Abbie Cullen-Scott, was the perfect wife, the perfect mother and that they had the perfect...
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette › Lifestyle › 8 hours ago
Just in time for National Letter Writing Day, Leslie Medice has volunteered to write hand-penned letters to children who write to Santa.
Business Insider › Lifestyle › 1 month ago
Ashley Kuzma, 32, died September 22 in Cleveland, Ohio, after a two-year fight with laryngeal cancer, her mother, Vicky Kuzma, told "Good Morning America." In the obituary, Ashley Kuzma shared details on her life — how she earned her teaching degree...
Business Insider › Entertainment › 1 month ago
WeWork is reportedly has plans to get involved in professional gaming, according to a report from Bloomberg. Bloomberg found two job listings for Play By We, an entertainment services brand focused on professional gaming and esports. Competitive gaming...
Sign In

Sign in to follow sources and tags you love, and get personalized stories.

Continue with Google
OR