The hundreds and perhaps thousands of special salutes to our favorite and newest ancestor, former U.S. Secretary of State and General Colin Powell, is a collective valuable lesson for all who write about our ancestors’ lives.
3 P’s for producing great obituaries
On many occasions, I (Ann) have been designated to write obituaries about my family, friends and even former work colleagues. Obituary writing is a skill and talent. It is not the time for careless regards of facts. There are professional obituary writers whose purpose is to provide professionalism to the sometimes rough passages we often read in programs and on websites during times of bereavement.
My “P’s”( for obituary writing:
- Plan the obituaries before the relative’s or friend’s transition(s). This seems morbid, yet it is a practice that learned and demonstrated in my first journalism course taught by Nellie Dixon at Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University). I followed the same practice when I became a journalism instructor. Professional media outlets assign reporters to write obituaries about famous persons before the deaths of those individuals. It may seem sad to some to realize this occurs, yet it does.
- Prepare your loved ones’ obituaries. As part of the planning and preparation, if possible, record, photograph and speak about your relative, friend during their active lives. I know of a professional videographer who recorded his favorite aunt. That recording on his mobile device is part of the obituary and legacy moments for the family.
- Produce the content. Organize all materials according to themes that emerge from their lives. Write your first draft.
Seek help from those who know
When the inevitable occurs, you are ready with the necessary information. It is best to listen to family and friends who send virtual messages or whose personal visits include conversations about the deceased person(s). You may hear something that adds a new name or important life event about the loved one(s).
You may also wish to enlist the assistance of a professional such as my friend, Dr. Tony Burks.
Tony Lamair Burks II
Dr. Tony Lamair Burks II first learned the art and craft of storytelling from his four grandparents in lower Alabama. He is an award-winning education expert who coaches and trains leaders for excellence as chief learning officer of LEADright. His stories about school and life have appeared in newspapers, blogs and books around the world. He has written six books and contributed to four. He is passionate about helping others tell their stories. For over a quarter of a century, he has written, co-written and ghost-written obituaries and funeral orations. He has served as the interim director of a publishing house, and he currently leads a series of interactive workshops — Unleashing Your Untold Healing Story and Writing Your Story — to help others unearth and release stories that have been held deep within.
Writing tips from other pros
How to Write a Great Obituary
- Announce the death. Start off the obituary by announcing the death of the loved one. ..
- Provide general biographical information. Include some biographical information such as birth date, upbringing, education, marriage information, accomplishments, and work history.
- Make it personal. To write a great obituary, it’s important to capture the spirit of the loved one who has passed.
- Listing the family members. While you don’t have to mention every nephew and cousin by name, it’s important to write a general overview of the family members who passed away.
- Funeral information. Provide the date, time, and location of the funeral. Also include information regarding donations, flowers, or condolences.
- Review for mistakes. Check, check, and check again. Once you are satisfied with the finished product, pass it off to a friend or a dispassionate third party for review.
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