Sadly, the art of the eloquent obituary is becoming as extinct as the newspapers that proudly published them for decades.
It used to be said that a person found himself in the paper only twice in life, when they were born and when they died. If you consider the Internet a “paper” of sorts, that twice in a lifetime recording has expanded exponentially to about every 5 minutes as a self-absorbed generation alerts the world to every sandwich bite, every walk around the block and every like or dislike in its ego-centric existence.
A birth announcement was pretty basic. A child was born on this date to these parents, possibly with siblings. Some community newspapers allowed grandparents to be mentioned, even aunts or uncles, and some printed the little one’s photo, usually shot professionally from the hospital nursery. Modern birth announcements are made online, accompanied by photos taken in the delivery room with Dad’s cell phone.
But the obituary. Ah, the obituary in years past was a thing of journalistic beauty that told a life story in maybe eight inches, sometimes longer if the deceased enjoyed an active social life or had a big family.
The photo sent in by the family was sometimes 20 years old or more. “That’s Mama’s favorite picture of Daddy,” a daughter or son would tell the receptionist at the newspaper office, handing over a colorized photo of a smiling WWII soldier in uniform. The rosy cheeks were always a giveaway as to the age of a picture.
At my first newspaper job, I typed in obits that were written and submitted by someone else. When I was at the AJC, I interviewed relatives and wrote obits on their loved ones in between covering crime and courts on the south side of Atlanta. One of my favorites was about a woman who was a huge UGA fan. Her son said a television would be set up in the red and black viewing room so mourners could watch the game that Saturday. Brilliant.
As members of the Greatest Generation die out and this generation grows old and dies — yes, young people, death comes to us all — I can see the quaint obit taking a turn for the modern and technical. A typical obit provided key details about the deceased’s life.
“She graduated high school and attended college where she studied home economics,” for example. In 40 or 50 years, that will probably read, “She was home-schooled and got her degree from an online university.”
“He married his childhood sweetheart whom he met when they grew up next door to each other,” may evolve to, “He met his wife online.”
Obits usually listed hobbies such as reading, gardening, shopping and traveling. An updated version might read, “She was proficient at Farmville and enjoyed Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and shopping on amazon.com. She had more than 1,000 books stored on her Kindle and she wanted to travel the world but was content to view digital images of those places through Google satellite maps.”
Can you imagine “He played football for UGA” being replaced by “He was a devout and dedicated gamer”? Or, “She enjoyed ballroom dancing” becoming, “She could twerk better than Miley Cyrus”?
“He worked for 40 years at the same company and retired at 65,” will no doubt emerge as “He held varying jobs throughout his career and was still working at 78 when he passed away.” I think, “She moved to Florida when her husband retired at 65” is pretty much a thing of the past, or a rarity at best.
It’s not that the older generation had more sense or was smarter than 20-somethings in 2014. But this is your obituary, folks, and it may be the last thing ever written about you. Make it count.
You have to admit that “He voted for Adam Lambert on ‘American Idol’” just doesn’t have the same ring as “He supported FDR.”