What to write when the light goes out

This week has witnessed the sad news that two celebs had passed over to the great stage in the sky. First there was ‘Firestarter’ Keith Flint, frontman of The Prodigy, then actor Luke Perry of Beverley Hills 90210 fame. We were sorry to hear of their passing – particularly as both were seminal figures in the lives of young Skouts.

As writers by trade we are used to turning our keyboards to any given topic, but the week’s events got us talking about obituary writing. While finding the story in some B2B topics can be challenging, we all felt that writing a final eulogy to someone, especially if you knew them, could be one of the hardest jobs of all.

So, what should a good obituary say and not say?

The key thing is focusing on life, not death. Positivity is vital. Cremation Solutions points out that the obituary should focus on the life of the person. “If the deceased person was a standout in life, make his or her obituary a standout as well. <Many> of the obituaries are dull and boring and <say> little more than the person died, the names of surviving family members and the funeral arrangements.”

Obituaries should also contain key facts about the person, such as when they passed on, who their closest relatives are, where they lived, when their funeral is or any donation information. However, with cybersecurity a growing issue these days, it can be important not to reveal too much personal information. Some experts say there is a real risk of identity theft based on information made public in obituaries.

As in many forms of writing, clichés are considered poor practice. This is mainly for the avoidance of misunderstandings. A cliché phrase may be construed differently by different people, and some may even be considered offensive or inappropriate. ‘Now happily pushing up daisies’ might reflect the deceased person’s fun view of life but might be upsetting for people who don’t get the point.

Some famous people have their obituaries pre-written so that they can approve what is going to be published about them after their death. While this offers some certainty it also opens up the risk of premature publication. Among the many premature and fake obituaries that have been published was apparently that of P. T. Barnum. The ‘greatest showman’ passed his obituary to the press to publish several weeks hence when in poor health, believing he would have passed on by this point. Unfortunately, he hadn’t!

The final point is humour. Death is not a cheery subject, but some people seem to manage to see the funny side of it. There are many examples. We found an obit written for American ‘baking icon’ Betty Crocker – entitled “Rich but no longer moist”. The text goes on to say how “she failed to rise” that morning. In her will she apparently “asked to be mixed up with 2 eggs and ½ a cup oil, mixed for 3 minutes on high speed, spread evenly, topped with walnuts and cremated at 1350 degrees for 45 minutes.”

Hmm. Not entirely sure this one is genuine!

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