The ABZs of Auto-Obituary Writing

Look, I’m vain, love attention.[1] Therefore, there’s no way I’m going to let anyone get in the last word after I have checked out of this Motel 6 of Life. 

No, I’m writing my own obituary before I expire, and you should as well. What after I succumb to something or another, my cousin Zilla is tapped to compose my obituary? Rather than merely “dying” or “passing away” or “entering eternal rest,” I might have “left the world to be with the Lord,” or worse, “entered the loving embrace of [my] Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Though I wouldn’t mind getting a hug from Jesus, I’m agnostic, so I want my obituary to be an accurate reflection of my life. 

Don’t trust others to do right by you. Do it yourself!

So, what follows is an easy guide for composing your very own obituary.[2]

Okay, let’s get started.

Rule #1. Know your audience. Chances are the readers of the obit are friends, family, or acquaintances. Most people don’t read strangers’ obits (yours truly being a notable exception), and if they do, you can bet they’re retired, likely former English teachers, and/or grammar Nazis. Therefore, make sure to proofread carefully but address the audience in a familiar fashion.

Rule #2. Sentence one should state the sad fact that Wesley is dead and when and where that regrettable transition took place. Although it’s not necessary to state the cause of death, inquiring minds want to know. In the following I have bracketed words that can be omitted according to your own predilections. 

Wesley “Rusty” Moore died Monday [at his home/at a sterile assisted living facility/on the side of the road] [after a short/long illness[3]//months of neglect// stumbling in front of a car outside of Chico Feo].

Rule #3. It’s best to get the bio out of the way first. Make sure to include the occasional introductory subordinate clause; otherwise, these lists of facts are deadly tiresome enough without your bludgeoning the reader with an unrelenting barrage of declarative sentences.

Wesley, the first son of Wesley E Moore, Jr and Sue Blanton Moore, began life on 14 December 1952 in Summerville, South Carolina. After graduating from Summerville High, Wesley attended the University of South Carolina and received a BA in English in 1975.[4] [Because of the post-OPEC oil embargo recession of 1975 and the fact that he didn’t own a car and couldn’t score a job], Wesley immediately entered the English graduate program the fall after his graduation.

Tending bar as a graduate student, Wesley met his first wife, fellow bartender Judy Birdsong. After they decided to marry, Wesley [weary of scaling the mountainous molehills that characterize literary criticism] left the university without a degree. After [somehow] getting an adjunct gig at Trident Technical College, Wesley and Judy wed on 4 February 1978 [in Decatur, Georgia.]

[After a short stint of collecting rejection slips,] in 1985, Wesley started teaching at Porter-Gaud. By then, Wesley and Judy had two sons, Harrison and Ned, [who eventually attended Porter-Gaud and rode to school with their father, providing the boys the opportunity to amass quite a quantity of profane and vulgar words as their father battled traffic from the Isle of Palms and later Folly Beach on their way to West Ashley.]

After Judy’s death from lymphoma [on Mother’s Day] in 2017, Wesley fell in love and married Caroline Tigner.  Caroline, her daughter Brooks, and Wesley made their home in Folly Beach, a community they treasured [until it was overrun by Airbnb short term rentals that transformed the once funky residential island into a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah/ Myrtle Beach].

Bored yet? 

Rule #4. You should follow the bio with a paragraph that humanizes the deceased. I don’t know how many obits I’ve read that have short-changed the not-seemingly-so-dearly departed by shortchanging him by merely expending a sentence or two. 

For example, Harold enjoyed fishing. That’s it; that’s all it says. Or Mabel enjoying playing with her grandsons.

In mine, I would mention my writing, particularly the novel Today, Oh Boy! and the handful of writing awards I’ve received. I would also mention my collage-making and blog and perhaps my four decades of surfing.

Papa Hemingway, Joyce, and Tom Waits in Wilmington, a collage by Wesley Moore

Rule #5. You should then list survivors and pre-decedents. By the way, if you’re old like me, there’s no need to specify that your parents preceded you in death.

NOT: The great-great-great-great-great grandson of Adam and Eve, Methuselah was predeceased by his parents . . . 

Rule #5. Although the time and place of the memorial service/funeral/burial at sea, can be stated at the beginning of the obituary, I prefer it at the end, though it’s completely up to you.

Now, all you have left is to designate where memorial donations should go and perhaps to thank anyone who was especially helpful in the dying process.

So that’s it, have at it, don’t put off until tomorrow because, well, you know why.

Fin.


[1] Hence this blog.

[2] I realize that most people (Prince Hamlet being a notable exception), don’t cotton to contemplating their own demise. However, look upon the exercise of auto obituary composition as a fond look back on a life well lived. On the other hand, if you consider your life a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, you can lash out at your enemies in your obit. It’s up to you! [insert smiley emoji].

[3] For me, the more specific the better. If possible, I’d like to precisely name the illness, for example, “after an acute case of cirrhosis of the liver.” BTW, I hate the trite trope of illness as a martial encounter. Waging heroic battles with Goliath like adversaries like inoperable brain cancer is yawn-producing. Certainly, there must be people out there who whined their way to the grave.

[4] Why are red-blooded Americans omitting the “from” in sentences pertaining to graduation, as in “graduated high school or graduated university?”  

7 thoughts on “The ABZs of Auto-Obituary Writing

  1. Well sir this definitely does cause me to consider a rough draft, I am surprised I have made it this far. There was a time I believed I wouldn’t make it to 20, once I achieved that milestone 30 became the next. I have surpassed the second date and well into the year past it for my age. I have completed the will so the obit it the obvious next choice. You appear to be well and look forward to paths crossing soon.

  2. Rusty, I haven’t know you long, but I’ve known you well. Therefore regardless of your wishes, I know you would appreciate my vague attempt to give you a proper obituary. Therefore again your wishes and to keep everyone else from being traumatized by your passing. I wishing delight people with the best possible descriptions of how you went to be with your savior, kicking and screaming the whole time. Well being how this will be published 30 minutes before checkout time. And I do this with the utmost love and respect. Not for your wishes of course, but so one more time some son of a bitch can stifle your free will. 😂

  3. Your comment about “omitting from” drives me CRAZY!! I don’t know when, or how, that started, but it drives me crazy.

  4. We’ll got a degree. You got an Associate’s and Bachelor’s, technically. How painful is literary criticism? Are we talkin’ emotional abuse or it like Red Smith said? That with writing, you just open a vein and bleed. I know the pain of writer’s block and remember the difficulty of brain storming. Especially inside a group where your idea goes down in pen so whether it sucks or not, it ani’t goin’ nowhere. With programming you can borrow the logic from a similar program without plagerizing it if you have to. I think of writer’s as escape artists from what we agree upon as reality.
    Consider Hamilton. Three men set out to write 25 essays that were the Federalist Papers defending the Constitution. They would up writing 85 in a span of 6 months. John James got sick after writing 5, James Madison got 29. But Alexander Hamilton wrote the other 51. So, to me our lives are shaped by writers more than doers, or actors 🙂 and we are enhanced by the writers we decide to elevate in life. Even if all you contribute to your craft is a script for a reality show called The Apprentice.

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