Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Truth in obituaries

The growth of online obituaries and related material such as Facebook memorials is breathing new life into the hoary tradition of obituary writing.

The traditional newspaper obit is highly formatted: After a brave battle with Disease X, Person Y passed away peacefully, surrounded by his loved ones …

Then come the dates, birth and marriage prominent among them. Those dates are more likely to be true than most of the other stuff.

But now the traditional taboos – suicide, unpopular diseases such as AIDS, even a prickly personality – are themselves dying.

On Dec. 4, 2010 The Globe and Mail published a wonderful example of the new, more honest obit writing about Christopher “Dexter” Bates, who died of cancer at 44.

He was not one to suffer fools ­ and he saw them everywhere ­ but people gravitated to Chris and he made lifelong friends. He could be thin-skinned, but he was hardheaded too, and he never heard a piece of advice he couldn't ignore. Twenty-odd years of addiction took a heavy toll on his health and many of his personal relationships, but his extraordinary intelligence, charm, and dry humour will be greatly missed by those who knew and loved him.

So when you are asked to help compose an obit, as eventually you are almost certain to be, write honestly.

You can help write the obituary of dishonest obituaries.