In a December 16 OpEd in the Wall Street Journal (“An Obituary Is the Story of a Life, Not a Death”), Danny Heitman wrote: “I didn’t set out to write obituaries. I supposed no one does. A couple of years ago, I began editing the quarterly magazine of an academic honor society [Phi Kappa Phi]. One of my duties involved writing death notices of deceased members.
“. . .I didn’t relish the thought of sitting at a keyboard and focusing on the departed. . . .but I quickly learned what every obituary writer does: A good obituary isn’t a story about death, it’s a celebration of life.”
Heitman gave several examples, including: “I still tear up when I think about Deatra Sullivan-Morgan (1962-2019), who died more than 25 years after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. A professor at Elmhurst University in Illinois whose career had taken her to several campuses, she was known for buying groceries and train tickets for struggling students and even purchasing shoes for them so they would be properly dressed for job interviews.”
When your CTN editor began working at the Palisadian-Post, I watched as editor Bill Bruns agonized over submitted obituaries. He often would call family members, double-checking that certain dates, timelines and names were correct, and often seeking more information about interesting events and accomplishments in the deceased’s life.
Back then, I still didn’t understand the importance of written recognition of those who have passed.
My first husband, a stand-up comedian who died when he was 40, never had a fitting obituary—although his would have been hysterical. He once joked, “I know I’m going to hell. I know it’s hot down there, but is it humid? . . .. I can take the heat, but that damn humidity will kill you every time. . .and if you’re wearing corduroy – the chaffing.”
He continued, “My grandmother is the most morbid person I know. She actually knows the words to ‘Taps.’ She wakes up every day and reads the obituaries and then crosses the name out of the phone book.”
I wrote my first obituary when my mother-in-law died. She had lived a remarkable life—her mother had been placed in a mental institution because of postpartum depression. The father subsequently left the family of six kids, leaving the older sisters to raise the younger ones. My mother-in-law remembered picking up coal along the train track to heat the home, and recalled the occasional gifts of meat from the butcher shop and farm relatives.
Today, the kids would have been put in foster homes, but somehow the older sisters helped raise the younger ones. Despite the hardships, my mother-in-law got her beautician’s license and with her husband operated one of the most successful salons in a small town in Nebraska.
Now, I appreciate the opportunity to read various life stories in obituaries that are submitted to Circling the News, or that I come across in different newspapers.
Here are some tips for submitting an obit to CTN:
1) Person’s name, birthdate, where they were born and parents’ names.
2) Where they attended high school and college (if applicable).
3) Where the person worked.
4) If the person has a spouse, where they met, where they married and where they lived — and when they moved to Pacific Palisades.
5) Hobbies and/or organizations the person belonged to.
6) Are there any special services planned?
7) Some people, in lieu of flowers, designate a charity to which mourners can contribute.
8) Immediate family members who predeceased the person and the surviving relatives.
9)Include a photo.
And if there’s anything fun, special or memorable about the person, please add it.