The Last Word: Obituaries

So, what are your thoughts about obituaries?

I get the small thrice-weekly county newspaper here at the house.  The town I live in is well known for its giant active-adult community, and what seems like a never-ending selection of senior living/assisted living/nursing care homes–you’d better believe that little paper’s obituary section gets a workout!   In The Sun, obituaries are fairly cheap, and thus are frequently long, full of lists of relatives, military service, religious and political affiliations, and the like.

In the big metro south of us, the mainstream paper’s obituary section is frequently two or three pages, and many times full-length columns per person.   In that paper, it’ll cost you almost $10 a column line for an obituary, plus $75 for online availability.  It’s not hard to see how an obituary could add up fast at those rates!

In today’s digital society, how important are obituaries anyway?  Newspaper subscriptions and distributions are down precipitously–who’s going to see it at all?   I know no one who subscribes to the big metro paper–is it worth the $10 a line (plus fees) to inform some small segment of strangers of a death that matters to me?  It is just what you do, right?

In this day and age of alternative deathcare, why not question the utility of the obituary, especially in the face of crazy pricing for column space.   Do you really need one?  Do you really want one?  What good is it anyway?

One could argue for the newspaper obituary being a good way to permanently archive the death on the internet (for future seekers), but every year, more and more companies come online doing just that with tools for web-based memorialization, a self-directed and much more flexible option at a far cheaper price.  Innovators such as Your Dash, Qeepr, and Everlasting Footprint are creating interfaces which allow for interactive, digital, scrapbook-style memorials, far beyond the typical genealogy lists of a traditional obituary;  in many cases, these will be searchable and indexed to search engines as much as the standard newspaper obituary or legacy.com listings are.  So you can have your eternal web ‘obituary’ presence without the need for an obituary at all.

Beyond that, in our interconnected age, can Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blogs (even simpler than the specially-designed websites and memorialization apps) do what the obituary has always done, but cheaper and better?   Most social media sites now are developing procedures for converting active accounts to memorials, to be cultivated going forward for the friends of the deceased to remember the person by.  Even if you don’t convert your loved one’s profile into a memorial, it can stand forever, inactive, with the news as it stood when its owner left, presumably with the few “I’m gonna miss you, man–sorry to hear about your passing” notes that inevitably will be posted to the profile–thus leaving a footprint, a trace of sorts out of sheer neglect.

More than a few of my clients, when asked the obituary question, indicate that they don’t want any trace at all left online.  Is this you?

I must admit, I do search for my deceased loved ones online when I have time.  For most of the ones who died without becoming digital (my grandparents, a few younger relatives who died prior to 1995), there is little to no sign they ever existed–a citation from a law case here or there, one acknowledged in a book forward, another (a young death) existing in perpetuity as the named on a memorial scholarship.  Certainly nothing first-hand–no pictures, no life story, no blog posts or tweets or duck-faced Instagram pictures, nothing truly personal to discover about them.

That might make me sad.

I want more than that for my digital legacy, for the fingerprints I leave behind.  Heck, this blog, Facebook, and Twitter virtually guarantee there’ll be more left behind!  But the older I get, and the more I face losing my close loved ones, the more I want them (and me) to take control over what they leave behind, for me, my kids, my grandkids, and the world.

I don’t think that’ll be a traditional obituary, as I’m still frugal above all.  But there are so many good tools out there which can function as an obituary stand-in, to provide help to capture and archive essential information, let you create a slideshow for your funeral, and give you a chance to record things to pass on.

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