Getting Your Obituary Subject’s Cooperative Participation


Most people don’t enjoy writing an obituary for a loved one, particularly because it usually occurs as part of a rush of duties at an emotionally stressful time.  Few of us have much experience at doing this, and none of us which to gain a great deal of experience.

It is an unpleasant task at any time.  Most people also shy away from the thought of preparing an obituary in advance – how do you politely tell your parents, your spouse, or even worse, your children, that you want to prepare an obituary for them, without it seeming as if you are planning for their death in some negative inappropriate manner?  If the subject is someone old, the topic of their advancing years and ever shorter remaining time on the planet is probably a delicate one, and if they are someone young, the thought of an obituary seems impossibly remote and laughably unnecessary.

But some forms of death have no favorites.  Car crashes, terrorist attacks, lightning strikes, equipment failures, and other random acts of misfortune are always no more than one or two random chances and choices away from us.

We suggest that the subject of preparing an obituary can become part of a discussion about several related topics :

  • Writing a will and the appointment of Executors – this is probably the most socially acceptable way of admitting the mortality of oneself and others around one
  • Living trusts and other documents recording your intentions and wishes if you are incapacitated
  • Financial provisions for survivors, life insurance, and related issues
  • A LifeLinker profile, lists of contacts to be advised, and the appointment of Agents
  • An autobiography (to be published on LifeLinker or anywhere else
  • An obituary for future release

We also suggest the best way to introduce this topic – perhaps at some form of family gathering like Christmas, Thanksgiving, or some other regular or special event – would be for you to first share your own plans under these categories, then after having done so, ask the other people with you to join you in doing their own planning too.

These are not just introductory comments.  They also point to the most important part of writing an obituary for most of us.

Get the person whom you will be writing about to write as much of their obituary as possible, before they die.

This is not a case of you being lazy.  It is merely stating an obvious fact – the best person to write an obituary is the person themselves.  Who better knows the details of their early life, about some of the events that shaped their life and caused them to be who they became?  Who knows what were truly the memories and events they cherished the most?

Recognizing this, LifeLinker provides two things that current members can do for themselves.  They can start to fill out the core details of an obituary, merely to be updated and completed when the time comes, and they can also create their own Life Story – an electronic autobiography of their life and times.

1. Collating Data

A common theme among the grieving family – and one we’ve personally experienced – is the sudden surprising discovery about how little they actually know/knew about the person who has just passed away.

Sure, as a boy, particularly when the two of us were on long car journeys, my father would regale me with tales of his own childhood and growing up, but in truth, I wasn’t truly concentrating or treasuring the moments as they passed, and when it came time to write an obituary for him, and to give an address at the funeral, I found myself with almost nothing to build from.  The most helpful document I uncovered in his papers was a job application and resume that he had submitted with it, some years ago!

So, we urge you to encourage your friends and family members to start putting together their life story, in the terms and manner in which they wish to be remembered.  Oh – may we also gently suggest that you start writing your own life story, too!

2.  Other Sources

Whether you’re writing your own life story, helping someone else prepare theirs, or putting together an obituary afterwards, it is a good idea to go out to other friends and family and ask them for inputs, too.

I know in my case that when meeting an old school friend and reminiscing about old times, he told me things about myself that I’d long since totally forgotten.  He unlocked memories that I didn’t even realize I had, about events and activities which, while significant at the time, inexplicably became forgotten over the decades that followed.

Other people might also have copies of photos, or of awards, newspaper/magazine articles, and other interesting memorabilia that can be included into a detailed life story.

While traditional obituaries have typically been limited in scope and size due to the costs and constraints of publishing them in newspapers, you’re not so constrained with a LifeLinker Obituary and Permanent Memorial, so search out as much content as you can find to make what you write a complete and interesting story of a life.

Please now continue to part 2 of this article for the specifics of writing a traditional style obituary.