I hope you are lucky enough to not experience the joy (heavy sarcasm font) of writing an obituary for a loved one.
You think you know someone until you have to sit down and write about them holistically. It’s less about the immediate feelings of grief on their passing, and more about sharing what made them special to people who, honestly, likely have similar experiences with them. You can’t make it too personal because other people are grieving too, but making it so bland that it has no personality is pretty lame too.
When my dad died almost eight years ago, he had lived a full life: birth, school, marriage, kids, jobs, church, etc. Logical steps along the narrative journey that were generally easy to write about because, let’s be honest, most of his life was behind him – he was 72 afterall.
The same narrative path doesn’t necessarily fit. Sure, she was born. She went to school. She was married until she wasn’t. She had jobs and hobbies and all that jazz… but that’s not who she was.
She was a person who had the best parts of her life ahead of her, and a journey that took her most of the way there. “Young” people die all the time, right? But googling “young person obituary” and you get the same boilerplate format: death, birth, family, work, hobbies, funeral. Sure, obituaries are often limited because they tend to be super expensive to publish – how else are newspapers going to make money these days? – but they still feel so impersonal.
I can write a lot of dumb nonsense, as evidenced by the majority of things on this blog over the past decade plus. But when I sat down to write Jen’s obituary… the words failed me. I started with the aforementioned boilerplate, took out a whole section replaced by something else, which then split into two paragraphs that ultimately said the same thing, so I went back and fixed that. Added small things like “other family and friends too numerous to mention” to make sure everyone feels included without accidentally omitting anyone, but still it doesn’t feel like enough.
Part of the problem is that I don’t really want to announce to the world that my sister is gone. Yeah, I’ve done it with one of my most widely read blogpost ever, but chances of that ending up in the historical record are pretty slim compared to an actual published obituary in a physical newspaper… at least as long as those things last.
I’m likely my harshest critic on this, and it ultimately won’t matter at the end of the day. Jen will be remembered regardless of the words that I write. But at the same time, I wish I could do more for her this one last time. Because she deserves it.
One thought on “Obituaries are Hard”
Robert, I’m so sorry to hear about Jen. I’m grieving this loss with you and your family.
When my nephew died last year, his family took a nontraditional approach that I liked a lot. You can read his obituary here: https://memorialutah.com/obituaries/spencer-zachary-taylor/
Maybe it gives you some inspiration.