What I’ve Learned From Writing Obituaries

A couple of years ago, my father told me he wanted me to write his obituary and
give the eulogy at his funeral. So you have some background, I could be considered a professional obituary writer, kind of.

When I was in college, my first journalism job at a local newspaper was writing obituaries. Nearly 30 years later, I am still known in my family as the obituary writer, and it is a position I am quite proud of. The best obituaries give you a glimpse into the heart of a person. It’s more than a list of dates and survivors, it is a written demonstration of a person’s life.
When my father asked me to write his, I was squeamish because I didn’t want to think about his life when it’s over. However, I quickly discovered that my father had different plans
for my writing abilities that even included instructions for me to follow. So I quickly obliged and started writing.
After listening to his heart when he reflected on his life, I knew the feeling I wanted to
evoke in the hearts of others when they think of my father. Unlike birth certificates, death certificates, and other official documents, an obituary actually celebrates a person’s life. My goal in writing an obituary is to present an accurate depiction of someone’s heart.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Jeremiah 31:33
I want the written memory of the person who has passed away to be what family and friends leave a funeral with, while hopefully easing the sadness they are experiencing in their time of grief.

Last year, the kids and I attended the funeral of a close family member. She was the example of a person who lived her obituary.

“A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100: 1-5

Writing obituaries help you learn a very simple lesson about life, time, and space. More specifically, it makes us reflect on whether or not we are living our lives in such a way confirms we are actually living in a way we would like our obituaries to be written.

As I think about it even more, living your obituary can be summed up into a few short points, most of which I learned during my time writing at the obituary desk:

  1. The value of a person’s life cannot be found in their dates of birth and death, but rather in how they fill the space in between the two.
  2. Life should always be celebrated. Celebrate every accomplishment, every birthday, every holiday, and the people you love.
  3. Everyone is important to someone. Try and think about that daily, especially when you have those not-so-nice encounters with someone. They are loved, just like you are.
  4. In the end, race doesn’t matter, politics doesn’t matter, salvation is what matters.
  5. Allow the photos. The filters don’t matter, the angle doesn’t matter, and the misplaced hair definitely doesn’t matter.
How do you want to be remembered? If someone were to write one paragraph that illustrated your heart, what would you want them to say? Are you living
so that depiction of you is accurate?

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