I used to be convinced that all types of writing were the same. From a classified ad to a historical treatise to a work of fiction, my argument was that regardless of the genre, the writing process doesn’t vary. To write anything, you need a beginning, a middle and an end.
Today, after sitting down with my sister, my niece and two funeral home staff, I don’t feel that way any more. Writing an obituary for someone you love is like no other kind of writing I have ever encountered. It’s not factual like a biography; it’s not strictly non-fiction like the account of a historical event; but it can’t just be made up if you don’t know the answers.
It’s like using words to create a picture, only to find that you’re not sure about certain key pieces, and the person who can complete the puzzle for you is the one person you can no longer ask. Sifting through everything my sister and I remember about our Dad leaves me feeling that there was so much more I should have known about him.
After putting our heads together, we create a rough draft that we like. Ms. T, one of the funeral home staff helping the three of us through the funeral planning process, prints off copies so that we can check it over for any changes we would like to make. I try to go into “editor” mode – a trick one of the staff writers on the Winnipeg Sun taught me – where you look at the copy as though you are seeing it for the first time. But I can’t. It’s too personal – the words just end up dancing around in front of my eyes. I’m hoping that if there are any mistakes, my sister or niece will catch them.
Life is Like That
After everyone agrees it’s fine, Ms.T. tells us what it will cost. The picture of Dad is one fee, and for not much less than the cost of including the photograph, we will be charged for each column inch of copy. My reaction is to pare it down to the essentials. My sister said no – she wants people to know who Dad was.
In a lightening flash, I get it. The first paragraph, should tell the reader who passed away, who preceded that person, and who he/she left behind. The last paragraph details the service information. And the middle is how we want those who knew him and those who are meeting him for the first time to remember our Dad.