Obituaries, like them or not, give many people their ‘final publicity’

I don’t like reading the obituary columns.

Yet, I do frequently these days. It seems far too often I see the name of a classmate or an old friend. 

Obituaries run the gamut. Some are a simple statement of fact. Name of the deceased, birthdate, employment history and when services will be.

Others are a written history of the person’s life, but fall short of telling a loved one’s real story. 

While working as a writer years ago for the Tribune, I wrote hundreds of obits. 

I’m sorry to say I don’t remember a single one. I hope that doesn’t mean that I didn’t write them with any feeling. 

In journalism school, we were taught that an obituary is as important as anything we would ever write because it is likely the last publicity the person would ever have. 

A few people I know have written their own obits. One said that he did it because he knew himself better than anyone else did, plus he could feel free to embellish the details. 

I admire the heck out of anyone who can do that. 

I’ve written two obituaries in recent years for people who played incredible roles in my life. One was for my dad in 2013, and the other was for my wife in 2018.

People have said to me that doing so must have been very hard, but it was quite the opposite. 

When I sat down at the keyboard, the words came faster than I could type. When you are emotionally invested, the stories of their lives tell themselves. 

After reading my dad’s obit, a childhood friend told me, “Boy, when I die I want you to write my obit!”

And after reading my wife’s, a high school friend of hers said, “My husband and I read it together and tears were streaming down both of our faces.”

Those comments made me feel like I had done my loved ones justice and made their “final publicity” memorable. 

Several months after my wife died, my daughter called me and was furious at an obit she had read in the paper. 

A woman had died and her family chose to use a substantial part of my wife’s obituary, word for word, to remember their loved one. 

I told my daughter, “Honey, you shouldn’t be mad. You should feel honored that they thought so much of your mom’s story that they wanted to use part of it for their loved one as well.”

After thinking about it, she said, “I never thought about that, but you’re right.”

I may have perhaps one more obituary to write in my life, but it won’t be my own. 

I’ll leave mine to one of my kids. I’m sure they will be much kinder than I could be to myself.

I know too much about myself, warts and all, to be objective.