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The Do-It-Yourself Obituary

To celebrate their lives, boomers are writing their own obits. Here’s how you can too

  • Use the ObitKit: As Soper points out, you needn’t actually write your obituary. But answer the questions in this kit and you’ll be able to leave behind a sort of rough draft of your life.
  • Follow a template: @Legacy provides a suggested format; a site called ObitNow.com offers a fill-in-the-blank template. Tributes.com is beta-testing a template with funeral directors that would be included in “pre-need” plans, through which people prepay their funerals.
  • Consider an online memorial: A growing number of sites are transforming the traditional obit into a multimedia remembrance. Tributes.com, which powers the websites of hundreds of funeral homes, is one of the larger ones. Online memorials are also increasingly found on the websites of individual funeral homes.  
  • Finally, do it yourself with tips from the pros. If you want your story to catch the attention of the newspaper reporters who choose the characters they’ll eulogize, advises former obit writer Alana Baranick, start with information that best identifies you: Were you known for running marathons? Or fostering 30 kids? (Your own obit is actually a “death notice,” which newspapers charge a fee to publish. Obituaries written by a newspaper staffer are considered journalism and cannot be purchased.)
  1. Avoid “I was born in …” chronology. To get more personal, try answering some of Soper’s favorite questions:
  2. Which three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?
  3. What do you consider the highlight of your life apart from your children and career?
  • Learn how the experts do it: Read Baranick’s Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers coauthored by Stephen Miller and Jim Sheeler, or Marilyn Johnson’s The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries. The latter — an homage to the obituary as art form — manages to be both sensitive and hysterical.

Veteran freelance writer and public radio reporter Elaine Grant lives in Strafford, N.H. Her work has appeared on NPR and the PBS NewsHour, as well as in U.S. News & World Report, Inc. Magazine, Fortune Small Business and CNNMoney.

You may also like: Share your work with other writers. »

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