Friday, December 16, 2011

Is Writing Obituaries a Dead Art?

I read the obituaries every morning.  Unlike the news which is depressing – these half page mini biographies are entertaining – if you read between the lines.  After all, it takes a skilled writer to transform an ordinary life to an extraordinary one.
My fascination with and appreciation of obituaries began when a million years ago I worked side by side with ‘Sandi Beach’ at a small Long Island radio station.  How small was it?   Fiddling with the radio, I couldn’t get a clear signal for the station until I was in their parking lot.
The phones rarely lit up with callers and when they did we would panic certain that the building was on fire.
Anyway, at the time I had a column in the Fire Island Tide and the paper and the station I believe were owned by the same people.  Sandi was dying (literally) and they brought me in to be a familiar voice when she left the building (literally again)
Sandi was so boring I actually thought she was kidding.  I cringed each time she read the ‘doings’ on Fire Island and ended with ‘be there or be square.’
I put on a pleasant expression because I’m a sensitive person aware that she probably wasn’t thrilled to see me sitting beside her just waiting for her to keel over and catch her headphones.
Her obituary in Newsday was glowing.  Without making stuff up, the writer wove a story of this woman’s life that could have been compared to Eleanor freakin’ Roosevelt.
I was aghast (odd word, but accurate) and I remember saying to my husband, Jimmy,
“If I died today, even with my minuscule accomplishments in the right hands my obituary would read like a life I wish I had led.”
Together we decided to save the clipping to call on that writer “when our time comes.”
And, then, when Jimmy did die, I was incapable of posting anything but a ‘notice’ – the hard facts, born, died and survived by.  I regret I didn’t give him a Sandi Beach send-off so I tell myself that for Jimmy there wasn’t a need to boost his life in the newspaper because he was extraordinary.
But, there is still time for ME!  Here I am getting older and a new year is just weeks away. New beginnings bring to mind endings and that I may need a little help for my life story. So, now each morning as I read the obituaries I’m going to make a note of who puffs up the dead person best.
Is this similar to financial planning?