After the death of a close friend, I searched the paper each morning for her obituary. I never found it. My friend was very accomplished; she was an innovator in her field and a philanthropist and she made a real difference in this world. I’m not sure why it was so important for me to relentlessly search; maybe I needed the written validation of her death or this was just part of my grieving process.
The primary purpose of an obituary is to announce the news of a death. It is an impossible task, even with email, Facebook, and other forms of social media, to reach the entire community that may be interested in a passing. How can we know every business associate, former classmate, colleague, or the tradespeople that the deceased may have touched? When I finally asked my friend’s husband why there was no obituary he said, “Everyone who needed to know knew.”
While the primary purpose of an obituary is to inform the community of a death, they often tell a story about the deceased. They might list the date of birth, date and cause of death, names of the immediate family, and an employment history. They often include education, cities and towns where the deceased lived, as well as personal attributes, detailing the accomplishments and contributions that made up the essence of the deceased. The obituary often includes the date and location of funeral rituals along with family requests regarding flowers and donations.
Cost can be a factor in whether the bereaved choose to publish an obituary. Rates vary by region, city, town, and by the size of the publication. The length of the obituary and inclusion of a photo will factor into the cost.
It pays to check the publications in your area as they might publish an obituary at no cost. My local paper publishes a news obituary for locals with certain criteria. The deceased must have lived in the area a significant part of their lives, usually at least twenty uninterrupted years, and they must have had extensive involvement in the community through employment, charitable, or religious involvement. These news obituaries announce the death but give no information about funeral rituals.
There was a death in my community this week and I learned of it by email. I looked for the obituary and found once again that there was none. Is this a trend? Are we now using electronic communications and social media to announce deaths? Will the use of obituaries decline? I hope not, but I guess only time will tell.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store.