How to write an obituary? I begin by reading through the exhaustive list of questions I’ve emailed someone who wants their own obituary written in advance, or a loved one of someone who has passed.
By answering the questionnaire, you can often remember private anecdotes, memories and dreams you haven’t given a thought to for years, in the midst of the frantic pace of daily life and the swift passage of time. With this information, I then write a brief imagined scene set in real time, where you or your loved one is the star attraction, the protagonist of the story. This scene identifies what was or is important and significant for you, and establishes a tone of intimacy and belonging. It also sets the stage for a traditional chronological account of a life, with all the biographical information I’ve garnered.
One of the key questions I ask is: ‘What do you want to be remembered for?’ In other words, what legacy or emotional will do we want to leave behind? The tally of names, dates and places is definitely needed in an obituary, and can be rendered sensitively, but the central focus point is in the recollections and lessons and love we leave behind.
Ultimately, my guide to writing an obituary is encapsulated in this one final question: ‘How can I best honour and celebrate this person’s life?’ With this always in mind, I can navigate the ebb and flow of yours or your loved one’s life histories with my rudder firmly in place.