Monday, July 1, 2013

Some thoughts on how we’ll be remembered

I wrote my mom’s obituary.

My great-grandmother
burned to death.
Hand-delivered it to the mortician, a big brother of a high school friend of mine.

He offered to let me see my mom in the embalming room. I turned down the offer; that was too brutal even for a grizzled old reporter like me who has covered murders and fatal vehicle accidents.

And like seeing my mom in the embalming room at the funeral home, I have no intention of writing my own obituary.

Fellow Writing Wranglers and Warriors blogger Neva Bodin recently wrote a blog about how we view our lives and if given the opportunity, would we write our own obituaries. Neva said, “… an artist friend and I once joked about publishing our own obituary just to become famous – you know it seems artists become or are more famous after their deaths. And we certainly needed help!”

She compared an obituary to a company’s mission statement that states its purpose, its reason for existing.

At my first-ever newspaper reporter job, my responsibilities included writing obituaries. It was ho-hum work for me, but I soon came to realize that an obituary is the last chance for a family to show that their loved one lived a fulfilling life and followed the biblical principle of shining his light before others so that they could see his good works.

Newspapers, especially the last bastion of local news – weeklies – thrive on the various notices that
A great-uncle owned and operated an Ohio carnival.
people mail and email to the newsroom. People buy the newspaper to read about themselves and their relatives and neighbors.

Think about it for a moment. People send in:

·         Birth announcements;

·         Graduation announcements;

·         Engagements and marriage announcements;

·         Military service announcements;

·         Job promotions;

·         Family reunions;

·         Wedding anniversaries;

·         Children’s special parties;

·         Scholarship awards their children receive;

·         High school and college graduations;

·         Sports awards;

·         Death notices.

My mother's birth
Truly, a person’s life is chronicled in the local newspaper.

During my days at the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette in Ohio I edited the copy of small-town columnists who wrote about the everyday lives of their neighbors who lived in towns like Rushville, Bremen and Millersport. They didn’t know it at the time, but they were creating “memory treasures” for later generations of genealogists and for descendants who want to learn about the lives behind the photos in old scrapbooks.

I have photocopies of my mom’s birth announcement, the obituaries of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, and a news story about the death of my great-grandmother who died in the 1930s when she caught on fire as she lit her cooking stove. I also have a copy of a news story about a relative who owned a carnival in the 1920s and 1930s.

My 86-year-old dad likes to say that in 100 years nobody will even remember that he lived.
That could turn out to be entirely true for the grandchildren of his new great-grandchild, Griffin Goff, who will be one year old in September, if they have no curiosity to learn about their families. But I think with all this rich genealogical information in the past editions of newspapers that will be available on microfilm and online, our descendants will want to attach lives to the names on the tombstones in local cemeteries. If they don’t, shame on them.


  1. As a historian, I live with and love the information I find in the papers. When I start on a new search I always start with the obituary or death notice and work backward from there. Great post

    1. Thanks. I love history as well. Have always wanted to do a Civil War era novel. Doing the research prior to writing would be the most fun, I believe.

  2. I try to keep clips of all the family related newspaper articles that I can find, unfortunately I'm the first one in my family (including parents, grandparents, etc.), that has been interested in family history, other than spoken history. I love going through old cemeteries, even though I'm not good at visiting newly buried family members. You are so lucky to have all that info and Griffin is lucky to have an uncle who has been so interested. Cher'ley

    1. Hey, Cherley, I love looking at old tombstones too, reading the old sayings. On my mom's my sister and I had part of Psalms 30.5 included. Mom had written it down at the front of her Bible and she chose to pass away at midnight, the dawning of the new day.