In the column, I puzzled over the problem of including personal memories in the standard obituary form. It lists the death, the date, the place of death, the names of loved ones who have already died and survivors. Often these are followed by education and career facts, along with a line or two about hobbies such as hunting or fishing.
I sent Joan the pro forma obit I had created for myself; it was a soulless block, without a single mention of things like my fondness for playing fast pitch softball on spring evenings and watching my kids play and practice with their own sports teams.
Cousin Joan suggested I include those human items in my own piece. The result, she said, would be cool.
This made me remember the obit I wrote when my wife, Sharon, died in 1999. In it, I described the enjoyment she found in art, music, landscaping, and especially in grooming and riding her horse Saki, and living on our farm in Catawba.
That helped me remember instances where other writers broke through the walls of straight information by including expressions of love and loss and affectionate mentions of their loved-one’s foibles.
I was wrong about the alleged aridity of the standard obituary formula.
I also was wrong to think that writing my own death notice would help my family by relieving them of the obligation to do it. Providing them with facts to use is one thing but telling the tale for them just seemed weird.
For survivors, compressing the life story into a small space on deadline of the person they have lost can be the first step onto the rocky path of active mourning.
– Joe Kennedy