Over the past 15 years, I have been a dedicated reader of obituaries. I would say a voracious reader but that doesn’t sound quite right! During that time, I have watched them evolve in many interesting and unpredictable ways.

 

Oh, they still include the basics – born on, lived in, learned at, worked for and left behind – but there is much more to celebrate about lives these days: traveled to, cooked for, partied with, danced to, loved, collected and cultivated.

 

Families (and even the deceased themselves) are writing more descriptive and personal short stories filled with minute details, eclectic eccentricities, and, often can-you-really-say-that-in-print pieces to pay tribute. In some cases, yes, you can say that. But should you?

 

I read about people I know and people I never met and often come away with a smile on my face about how they are portrayed in this final portrait. I love learning about people who collected hot sauces, wore nothing but second-hand clothes, emigrated from Cuba, or were cremated with a pocket full of family photos.

 

These kinds of colorful recollections practically jump off the page for me.

 

Here are some I’ve collected in recent years that should give you an idea of just how creative and colorful you can get these days.

 

  • He was a smoker, a drinker and an avid and gifted conversationalist who effortlessly commanded the attention of people around the dinner table…He will be cremated in advance of a memorial service early next year…Until then, his remains are to be stored in a martini shaker.
  • A man of selective indulgences, Tim loved his Moped, his Jaguar and full closet of fine clothes.
  • He eschewed his hearing aids, gossip, arguing, gum smacking and basketball.
  • You could spot her from a mile away running around town in her bright orange Volkswagen Bug, making friends everywhere she went.
  • He loved playing tennis, sitting in the sun, reading and fresh French bread. He was a sharp dresser…but was always barefoot when he could be.
  • He bought a dahlia farm where he could create his own golf course, plant many varieties of flowers and vegetables…shoot off rockets and fly his remote control planes.
  • He was an enthusiastic but terrible singer…
  • She had the distinction of having a pair of her nylons from World War II placed in the Smithsonian Institute.
  • He never met a product on an infomercial he didn’t order.
  • He could dine all day on the Sunday edition of The New York Times.
  • He attended all home and away games for 25 consecutive years.
  • Always the clothes horse, by age 10 he already owed five tuxedos…
  • Jack enjoyed cars and Indy racing and was a great movie trivia buff.
  •  In addition to being a tee-totaling mother and an indifferent housekeeper, she was a board certified naturopath specializing in poisonous and medicinal plants…
  • He excelled at growing camellias…rocking, eradicating mole crickets from his front yard, composting pine needles…outsmarting squirrels…
  • Quitting was an activity she had come to love and would enjoy for the rest of her life.”

 

 

To me, these all paint an image of a real person with some unique characteristics worth remembering.

 

There have been others, however, that have gone too far in telling the truth and too much of it – and then it ceases to be fun.

 

When I see someone referred to as a “drunkard” it makes me wince. On the other hand, when someone is referred to as “a friend of Bill,” it is a meaningful reference to their being a recovering alcoholic and member of AA, co-founded by Bill Wilson.

 

Or if there is too much about chasing after women or failed business pursuits, it feels like “too much information.” You don’t want to be so positive in writing an obit that the deceased person becomes unrecognizable in print, but it’s not necessary to spill all the beans about their shortcomings. And it’s possible to do all that in an upbeat way that will keep that person’s particular spirit alive and remembered.

 

***

Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband. More info on Facebook and at www.obitkit.com.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons / Pink Sherbet Photography  

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