Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Write Your Own Obituary
Remember the old joke about the man who read the newspaper obituaries every morning to see if he was still alive? While none of us expect to see our own obituary in print, it will be a lasting memorial in the eyes of others, especially to our descendants. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines obituary as, "a notice of a person’s death usually with a short biographical account."
Obituaries are excellent resources for genealogists because they usually name parents, siblings, spouse, and children with current residences for all, along with birth date and place, and other important events in the deceased’s life. Military service, occupation, hobbies, church affiliation, and cause of death are often noted, as well as the date and time of the funeral or memorial service and the burial place.
It’s especially important today to state the cause of death in the obituary. The Health Insurance Privacy and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has caused some states to blot out the cause of death when death certificates are issued to survivors. While this is not the intent of the law, it is being interpreted as so. For medical history purposes, descendants should know their susceptibility to diseases and conditions suffered by their forebears.
The morning after my husband died, I sat down to write his obituary. It was a difficult task, but one that had to be done. I cited his birth, his parents and siblings, but only weeks later did I realize I used our daughters’ married names but neglected to mention their spouses. Also I listed the number of grandchildren but unintentionally omitted their names entirely.
Whether I wrote what he would have wanted said or not, I’ll never know. Perhaps the events in his life that I recounted were not those he deemed most important. This is your last chance to express your personality, influence what others know about you—and to have the last word or the last laugh, whichever you prefer. Be real, and above all be honest, because there are those who will know the truth.
When you write, leave blanks for information to be filled in after your demise, such as cause of death. Entrust your final draft to someone close for safekeeping and designate where you want the notice to be published. My husband’s full obituary appeared in the Green Valley News. I also placed a short notice in the Tucson newspapers. It never occurred to me, however, to send it to the newspaper in Lake County, Ohio where we lived for 20 years prior to moving to Tucson, another oversight due to my distress.
Many important decisions face grieving survivors when a family member dies. When you write your own obituary, you are doing one last act of kindness for your loved ones in addition to making your own decision on how you want be viewed by posterity.
Scripture tells us, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die . . ." None of us will get out of this world alive and neither do we know the length of our days. While we are here in full possession of our faculties we can plan how we want to be remembered and relieve our family of one less responsibility.
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22 March 2009