Dave McElhinny: Obituaries aren’t what they used to be
Just about everybody has read an obituary or two in their lives. They’re generally filled with flowery terms such as “loving husband,” “devoted mother” or “pillar of the community.”
But have you come across the occasional obituary that is brutally honest? With increasing frequency, there are more and more authors of obituaries who simply refuse to prose fictional accounts about a deceased relative they loathed. These are often filled with terms like “lived longer than she deserved” or “womanizing drunk.”
While these type of angry obituaries aren’t the norm, they are indeed real and do pop up from time to time.
Perhaps it’s the fear of having somebody write one of these mean-spirited obits that have more people than ever before writing their own obituary, or “autobituary,” as some like to call it. At least that way, they are assured of getting the last word.
Not to be morbid, but I’ve already written mine. I penned it during my sophomore year of college. It was an assignment in one of my writing classes. It consisted of phrases like, “Dave was a billionaire humanitarian who died at the age of 105 while on his honeymoon with his fifth wife, Natasha, 20, a Russian model who is still hospitalized and recovering from exhaustion.”
It’s the kind of silly writing you’d expect from a healthy 19-year-old student for whom death is not something that is thought much about.
But in reality, the final words written about somebody are important. It’s like a resume of your life. As a writer, I believe these should be crafted to fit the personality of the deceased and not the cookie-cutter variety we always see.
Of course, you still want to read about the names of the family members: wife, kids, grandkids, etc. A little about their occupation and church affiliation is also important. But I find it great when people include a few surprises. One woman who wrote her own recently included the secret recipe to her famous cookies. She even included in the obituary, “I wasn’t kidding when I said you’d get this recipe over my dead body.”
Another funny autobituary is, “I enjoyed watching television in my underwear, purposely driving slow in the fast lane and stealing my neighbor’s newspaper.”
My own mother has quite a morbid sense of humor. When asked why she reads the obituaries every afternoon, she replied,“because if my name’s in there, I’m not going to bother making dinner.”
My friend’s dad actually took this a step further. From his hospital bed, he secretly ordered a flowered wreath for his own funeral with a sash on it that read, “I told you I was sick!” His 11 children laughed hysterically when it arrived at the funeral home. For them, that was a perfect parting gift from their father.
The truth is that death is a harsh reality of life. Everybody deals with it in their own way. Some laugh, some cry, many do both. It’s part of the healing process.
When it comes to embodying ones life succinctly, perhaps the words of Mel Blanc, maybe best known for voicing most of the Looney Tunes characters, said it best when he insisted to have a joke “that kills” etched onto his tombstone.
“That’s all folks!”