It seems that obituaries in the newspaper are getting longer and longer.
Some are several columns full of anecdotes and hilarious little tales, along with mentions of every schoolteacher, friend and relative. Shouldn’t that be saved for the funeral? Shouldn’t an obituary be just a few succinct lines about when and where a person was born, what they did with their lives, who preceded them and who they left behind?
I think people have the obit confused with the funeral eulogy. Why put all the other schmaltzy stuff in the paper?
Wanna Be Obit Editor
Dear Wanna Be,
Interesting thing about those obits: They’re technically considered advertising.
That’s in contrast with what we call a “death notice.” When someone dies we run a death notice, which we receive from whatever local funeral home is handling arrangements. That’s the bare-bones, news-department-produced announcement that this or that local resident has shuffled off this mortal coil. It’s free. It’s news.
Then, if that person’s friends and family want to, they buy an obit, which our ad department sells on a per-line basis. The people placing the “ad” can say pretty much whatever they want (with the obvious exceptions of things like vulgarity and hate speech).
As you’d expect, there’s a huge range in terms of length and tone. Our obit guy, Simon Sizer, summed it up nicely when I mentioned your question to him: “Yeah, the paid obits are going to be idiosyncratic. Some people want to say everything; some people just want to tell you where and when the funeral is.”
This, to me, seems right and good. Everyone grieves differently. Who am I (or you) to tell someone they need to cut it short? (“Certainly, ma’am, I understand your father was very important to you and lived a very eventful 93 years. But this obituary will take people almost four whole minutes to read ...”)
I realize sticking up for long obits, something that literally pays my salary, is a conflict of interest. But I swear that didn’t play into how I formed my opinion. I just happen to think your “save it for the funeral” desire for obit-page austerity is bizarre and misguided. There are plenty of reasons not to leave the good stories for the eulogy. Not everyone who cares about the deceased is going to be able to make it to the funeral. The family can’t clip the eulogy from the paper and save it. People can’t share a eulogy on Facebook for out-of-town friends and relatives.
Also, I love a long obit if it’s well-written. It’s true that most aren’t. Most of them really only serve the friends and family of the deceased, but that itself still seems like a worthwhile thing, certainly not something to get annoyed with. Maybe you find them tacky or schmaltzy, but again it’s not your job to tell someone how to best honor their loved ones. That’s a very personal thing.
Besides which you can always just, you know, not read them.
Hope that helps.
• Please send your questions, complaints and irritations to email@example.com with the subject “Dear Crabby.”