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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Writing the Dash

The Dash is a well-known poem by Linda Ellis, which you can read HERE. The poem describes how our lives are encompassed by the dash between the dates of our birth and death on our tombstone. However, well before our tombstone comes into play, the obituary announcing our death becomes a summary of how we lived our dash.
The death of my father on February 16th brought home to me just how dry most obituaries are; they tend to be more a recitation of facts rather than a joyous celebration of the life represented. In my opinion, there are two primary reasons for this: First, for the individual(s) writing the obituary, the death of their loved one is still fresh and thinking outside the box is next to impossible when mere thinking is a struggle. Second, I think there is an impression that an obituary must be solemn. I beg to differ. A few days before my father’s death, my husband showed me this obituary. I loved it! Now, this sort of tribute wouldn’t work for straight-laced Aunt June, but shouldn’t your loved one’s obituary be a reflection of who they were?
When I sat down with my sister and my niece to write my father’s obituary, my mind went blank. What information did we need to include? Is there a standard obituary template that needs to be completed? My family teased me, wondering why they were having to help me, a published author, with what was basically a writing project. Well, as I mentioned above, it had been less than eight hours since my father’s death and I was still reeling; I could barely complete a coherent thought much less find a way to sum up the life of the man I loved so dearly. However, as we worked, the facts came together and there was even one sentence that summarized Daddy’s life:
“Jimmy loved woodworking, model trains, gardening, dining at the Cracker Barrel and performed as an extra in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes.”
This was a good start, but for me, it wasn’t quite enough. Yes, Daddy really was an extra in Fried Green Tomatoes, but that was just a one-time thing and while he enjoyed the experience, it was not one of the things that defined him. My brain is always working on my stories, refining and tweaking them long before I ever begin putting them down on paper and it did the same with the obituary. When I went to the funeral home the next day to finalize the arrangements for Daddy’s memorial service, I changed that one line to read as follows:
Jimmy loved woodworking, model trains, African Violets, the Blue Angels, dining at the Cracker Barrel and large strawberry milkshakes with whipped cream and a cherry.”
I love this sentence because it encompasses all of the great loves of my father’s life (outside of his family, of course).
When my brother-in-law died a couple of years ago, we included Pepper, his faithful canine companion among the list of survivors. Allen and Pepper were buddies, it was only right that Pepper be included.
So, I say, if/when you are tasked with writing the obituary for one of your loved ones, let us see who they were. Did your dad complete the crossword puzzle – in INK – every day? Tell us! Did your ninety-three year old grandma routinely kick your ass in Sudoku? Tell us! If you get the honor of writing their dash, let us see how they lived it.

As for me, I want to be remembered as the cool mom and wife who loved video games, fictional characters (find out which ones HERE), writing, and who always kept her family guessing as to what she would do next.

Garrus Vakarian from the Mass Effect video games. Who needs a book boyfriend when you can have a virtual one?
 How do you want to be remembered?

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Isabella, I love that one sentence you wrote in Uncle Jim's obituary. It bought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.

    1. Thanks, John. I'm so glad you were able to make it to the service!

  3. I'm so sorry for the loss of your father, Isabella. I can relate to you giving your dad a cameo in a story. I've done it, too. When a father gives you love and sound advice all your life, you're never going to let go of that.
    Of course, obituaries are used to announce a death and the time and place where the deceased's funeral will be held so friends can attend. Eulogies, on the other hand, are stories about that person's life and telling personal accounts of how that person affected their lives. But I think your idea has merit. It would be wonderful if those obituaries told us something more and reminded us that the individuals who are no longer on the earthly plane had lives filled with love, hardships, fun, and people who will miss them terribly.
    I wish you all the best, Isabella.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sarah. The obituaries are the only glimpse into our loved ones lives that most people will ever have. I say, we let them see the person as well as the facts!

  4. Obituaries are so important. I think it is a shame that due to cost many people are choosing to not publish an obit of their deceased love one. They are gold to a family researcher. They are one of the best sources of female relatives. They give information about the individual as a PERSON, not just a name with a birth and death date. Thanks for seeing a meaningful obituary is written about your father. Thanks for sharing your great post.

    1. Hi Zina, thanks for stopping by. I had never thought of obituaries as a source of information for researchers. I'm obviously not the genealogist in my family, LOL! It's a shame that obituaries are so expensive. I was horrified to learn how much some newspapers charge!