The Tasteful Obituary

by M-Gillies

Benjamin Franklin said, "I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up. "

Obituaries may very well be the first thing many people read in the news each day – but they may very well be the last word written about a person.

So, with the important information in the obituary in place, it is crucial when writing an obituary, to watch the language that it is being placed in the story. Obituaries are brief written biographies of a person who has died and are given to family members as keepsakes to cherish forever. While misspelling a person name, or mistakenly attributing a death to another member of the family (mysendoff.com | Not Dead Yet), there are some things to consider when writing an obituary:

Addresses: Is it necessary to include the address of the deceased? No, and for good reason. Not only is it advertising an invite for potential burglars, but may also enthuse overeager real-estate agents and insurance salespeople.

Cause of death: Sensationalism comes from the news of a celebrity’s death, whether it be from suicide or illness, it’s juicy, tabloid exploitation, but when it comes to a local member of society; a high school teacher; a local store owner, most families would appreciate a degree of respect. This means omitting the embarrassing causes of death from the obituary. Instead of explicitly detailing the cause of death, it is better to stick with generic and less abrupt explanations such as died after a long illness, or died unexpectedly.

Past personal problems: Very few people will lead a saintly life. Everyone may have their secrets and skeletons in their closet, however, an obituary is not the proper place to re-open old wounds and remind readers and grieving family members of past wrongs.

Flowery phrases: If there is one thing George Carlin taught people, it’s that as a collective society, we like to use fuzzy words and fuzzy language in the form of euphemisms in how we describe our dearly departed’s passing into the arms of the Lord where he shall dwell among the angels and look down upon us from his cloud of tranquility. It is best when writing an obituary, to avoid these cliches and speculative celestial activities and simple explain that the person whom you are writing about died.

Other terminology: Another important aspect in obituary writing is avoiding the confusion of words. Again, George Carlin expressed his opinion on the English language when it came to soft language, saying that, “toilet paper has become tissue paper“, or instead of going to a hospital to see a doctor, you go to a health maintenance organization and consult a healthcare delivery professional.

The same goes for writing obituaries. Errors come in the ways people misuse the English language. For example, funerals are scheduled, not held; while Masses are celebrated, not said, people die unexpectedly, not suddenly (as all deaths are sudden); and deaths occur after surgery, not as a result of surgery. Furthermore, a man is survived by his wife, not his widow.

Read more:

How to Write an Obituary

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