My obituary format or template differs from those you see in newspapers or online. It aims to fully re-create who you or your loved ones are, as if you’re the protagonist in your own novel, or the star in your own film.
In the beginning of each obituary I write an ‘imagined’ scene set in real time, of an event of your choosing: the birth of a child, a wedding day, a memorable holiday, even a simple scene that reveals something authentic and intimate – at home with the kids, or listening to music, gardening, swimming, walking, having dinner.
After this self-contained ‘prologue’, the obituary is written in a traditional chronological style, from birth to day of death. The format or template is then traditional and highly structured: I begin with the day of birth, family details and some cultural and social-historical contextualisation of the person’s life and socio-economic status. After that necessary placing, the expected flow of a person’s life unfolds, from childhood to young adulthood, work, marriage, children, maturity and old age. I discuss quirks and foibles, notable events and highlights but also the quiet, secret fabric of a life – the dreams, hopes and reflections that give depth and meaning to the passage of days, months and years.
Each obituary is 1,000 words or slightly over. I alter the focus and emphasis of the obituary depending on whether the person was ill for a long time or died suddenly, how old they were, whether they were religious or spiritual or not. The exhaustive questions I provide in the questionnaire I initially email out, allow for the person to also be known best in their own words, with their own unique and inimitable expression. I use quotations from the questionnaire answers when appropriate.
Above all, I identify and write about whatever was most important and significant in each person’s life. This is the heart of the obituary, and how it truly sings. I distil the essence of a person’s life in these final words – and in so doing, honour them in all their complexity and beauty.