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You've Got to Get the Facts Right on Your Own Obit, Part 3

by Keith Gatling | 36 days ago

Keith Edward Gatling, of Syracuse, N.Y., has died, and no longer has to deal with the people who wouldn’t listen to him the first time around...when he was right.

No, as Monty Python might say, I’m not dead yet. But this is how I intend for my own obituary to begin, and is a sign of one very important thing...they don’t have to be somber affairs...especially if you’re writing your own.

If you’re writing someone else’s, you may want to appear to be “respectful.” And if they’re writing yours, they may want to do the same thing. But if they’ve written their own, and it’s a hoot, then go with it...that’s how they wanted to be remembered. That’s how they wanted to tell their own story. And if you’re writing your own, you get to call the shots on whether it’s funny, somber, or somewhere in between. This is your last chance to tell your story the way you want it to be told.

So what else should you put in it? How should you write it? Well, remember what I said last time about not only writing it for those who knew you, and already knew your back story, but for those who didn’t know you well, or those who would read it years later...especially grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

With that in mind, what else would go in my own obituary? The grade school I went to, and the year I graduated. The high school I went to, and the year I graduated. That I wanted to learn how to play piano from an early age, and taught myself to play by ear when my sister got a toy organ for Christmas; and that I was helped along informally by my grade school music teacher, Corrine Stewart, as well as the previously-mentioned George Blake. And of course, when mentioning George Blake, I’d take the time to say that he had been one of the top theater organists in New York before walking away from it all. That’s because while his name wouldn’t mean anything to most people, his stature In the music world would.

I’d also mention where I got my undergraduate degree, and the fact that I completed it part time, while working full-time at the university library. The fact that I came back to my library job to work on my library science degree. Where I met my wife and when we got married. The notable jobs I had, starting with the choir at St Andrew’s, and then including McDonald’s, Syracuse University, 19 years teaching, and my time here at the Liverpool Public Library.

And that’s just the beginning! I’d also include the many choirs I was a part of, which gave me the opportunity to perform on TV, as well as to travel.

As I said before...this is your chance...your last chance to tell your story the way you want it to be told. Also, if you don’t keep a journal (and how many of us do these days?), it’s your last chance to leave information behind for people in your family who might want to know more about you years from now.

So once you’ve written it...yours or anyone else’s...what do you do with it?

If it’s someone else’s, an important thing to keep in mind is that as far as newspaper obituaries go, there is a certain line limit before they start charging you, so you might want to have a shorter newspaper version and a longer online version that the newspaper version directs them to. And of course, as I mentioned before, you have the option of printing out the full obituary and handing it out to people at the service.

Also, you can’t submit the obituary to the newspaper yourself, that has to be done by the funeral home. I suppose this is to prevent people from causing trouble by submitting false obituaries. It’s relatively easy to verify information with a few known funeral homes. It’s an almost impossible job to verify hundreds of individual submissions.

If it’s your own obituary, make sure that the people who need to know are aware that it exists, and where it is. After all, when the time comes for it to be needed, you won’t be around to give instructions. So make sure that as many people know about it as possible.

Is there anything else I need to tell you? Probably. We were going to have a funeral director come be part of this program to answer questions. Maybe when we’re all able to meet in groups again, we’ll try to reschedule this program, and have her talk to us.

Until then...we’ll...I think I’ll get to work on my obituary!