End-of-life decision making
Including suicide and assisted suicide
Plus memorials and requiems
Narrative Medicine (or medical narrative) and illness memoir
Death often takes us unaware, even when there has been an illness. And in a state of confusion, grief, and fatigue we are expected to attend to practical details, one of which may be encouraging the local paper to write an obituary (the essay-like story about the deceased written by a staff writer, not the paid-for death notice listing the surviving family members, etc.). In the past, papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post wrote obituaries mostly about the rich, the famous, and the important local dead. More recently, recognizing that the obituary page is the first page many people turn to in the morning (to see which friends have left this world), they have begun writing interesting stories about regular (albeit sometimes eccentric) people. Obituaries can and should be interesting stories, not boring brag fests. Here are some links to sites for fans of obituaries, to examples of interesting obituaries, and to related sites.
• About obituaries and obituary writing
• Examples of interesting obituaries and other kinds of tribute
• Books on the craft of obituary writing
A Death Notice for Obituaries?
. Long-time political reporter James M. Naughton's critique of how the print media remember the dead. "If you're not already famous or notorious, don't expect original reporting for an obit, even at one of America's premier newspapers." Many newspapers are milking the public for paid obituaries, but good obituaries could actually increase readership in newspapers.
Facebook: A new way to mourn?
(Michael Morrison, for the Calgary Herald, : "An interesting thing happened the days following the Virginia Tech shootings. All over the Facebook community, groups were created to remember those who had been lost in the States' latest gun tragedy.
Life Lessons from the Newtown Obituaries
(Jen Singer, Momma Said, 1-4-13). "For adults, obits are about what they did. But for children, they’re about who they were. It’s about their spirit, that nebulous thing we sense when we’re around people we love and enjoy. As a result, the obituaries for the children of Newtown could end up less of a reminder of how they died than a lesson on how to live." Instead of items such as “She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oakland Chamber of Commerce," Jen wants something more like “James would often sing at the top of his lungs and once asked, ‘How old do I have to be to sing on a stage?’”
Lives Lived, on the Facts & Arguments page
(every day the Globe and Mail's Lives Lived column features someone who has died)
Margaret Thatcher and misapplied death etiquette
(Glenn Greenwald, Guardian, 4-8-13)
(samples online are good reading)
, blog for the Society of Professional Obituary Writers
, spinoff from Life on the Death Beat
Writing your own obituary. Many get in the last words on their own lives
( Beth Teitell, Boston Globe, 8-17-12).
Yvonne Brill and the Beef-Stroganoff Illusion
(Amy Davidson, Close Read, New Yorker blog, 4-1-13). There was much to-do about a NY Times obit about a woman rocket scientist, which started thus: "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. 'The world’s best mom,' her son Matthew said." Two items among many:
• Obit Gaffe: In rocket scientist Yvonne Brill’s obit, was it so bad to mention the beef stroganoff?
(Katie Roiphe, Slate, 4-2-13)
• ‘The Finkbeiner Test’
(Curtis Brainard, CJR, 3-22-13) Seven rules to avoid gratuitous gender profiles of female scientists
Mona Ackerman had the gift
(Richard Cohen, about the woman he lived with and loved, Washington Post, 12-10-12)
(obit by Peter Mayer, Guardian, 1-24-13) Former Penguin editor-in-chief who guided the publisher into the corporate era
George Carlin, Comic Who Chafed at Society and Its Constraints, Dies at 71
(Mel Watkins and Bruce Webster, NY Times 6-24-08)
Roger Ebert In Review: A 'Fresh Air' Survey
. This potpourri of old interviews with and by Roger Ebert ran 4-5-13, at a time when many of us were saddened by his death. Here are a few of the moving (and charming) items that appeared (or reappeared by link on Facebook) that week.
• I do not fear death
(Roger Ebert, Salon, 9-15-11). "I will pass away sooner than most people who read this, but that doesn't shake my sense of wonder and joy"
• Roger Ebert Hails Human Existence As 'A Triumph'
(The Onion's tongue-in-cbeek salute, 4-4-13). CHICAGO—Calling the overall human experience “poignant,” “thought-provoking,” and a “complete tour de force,” film critic Roger Ebert praised existence Thursday as “an audacious and thrilling triumph.”
• Filmmakers Remember Roger Ebert
(Forrest Wickman collects social media tributes for Slate, 4-5-13)
Nora Ephron Dies at 71; Writer and Filmmaker With a Genius for Humor
(Charles McGrath, New York Times 6-26-12). More on aging and her own death, including her own words:
• Nora Ephron's Hollywood Ending
(Alessandra Stanley, NY Times, 6-27-12)
• Regrets? I wish I'd worn a bikini every day for a year: Nora Ephron, who died this week, passes on the advice she wished she'd known sooner
(Nora Ephron, Daily Mail, 6-29-12, extract from her book I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
• 'I Remember Nothing': Nora Ephron, Aging Gratefully
(NPR, Morning Edition, interview about her book I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections
• Charlie Rose's interview with Nora Ephron in 2010
John Fairfax, Who Rowed Across Oceans, Dies at 74
(Margalit Fox, NY Times, 2-18-12)
Arlene Friedman--a career mentor--has died
(Gregory Mowery, Leaving New York, 9-4-12). I wrote about Arlene also: Arlene Friedman Shepherd: The Life She Loved
(McNees, Writers & Editors, 12-28-12). This links to the Times end-of-year series, but my computer keeps getting hung up on that link, so I'll remove it for now.
, who died after a hiking accident, at age 83, was interviewed by the Yiddish Book Center 11-10-10, thank goodness. You can hear her online.
Dr. Joyce Brothers, On-Air Psychologist Who Made TV House Calls, Dies at 85
(Margalit Fox, NY Times, 3-13-13). "Dr. Brothers arrived in the American consciousness (or, more precisely, the American unconscious) at a serendipitous time: the exact historical moment when cold war anxiety, a greater acceptance of talk therapy and the widespread ownership of television sets converged. Looking crisply capable yet eminently approachable in her pastel suits and pale blond pageboy, she offered gentle, nonthreatening advice on sex, relationships, family and all manner of decent behavior."
Tribute to Emily Fenichel
John Cooper Fitch, Glamorous Racer With a Flair for Danger, Dies at 95
(obit by Douglas Martin, NYTimes, 10-31-12), as recommended in Living well is the best revenge
(Ask Amy Daily, 11-2-12)
Remembering Ruth Graham
(Judy Bachrach, winner of Obit Writer award)
Alice E. Kober, 43; Lost to History No More
(Margalit Fox, NY Times, 5-11-13) "As an obituary writer at The Times, I have the great, improbable pleasure of reconstituting the lives of interesting people. And few people, it turns out, are as interesting as the influential obscure." Despite the efforts of investigators around the globe, Linear B (an unknown language in an unknown script) was one of the world’s great unsolved puzzles. An amateur was credited with figuring out that it was an early dialect of Greek, but he did so based on the painstaking studies of this overworked, underpaid Brooklyn College classics professor.
Renee Zlotnick Kraft, Washington fur heiress
(Adam Bernstein, Washington Post, 8-20-06). Socialite Added Flair, Style and Humor to D.C. Events
(paid death notice, NY Times, 3-3,4-13). Affectionate humor for a woman who clearly would have wanted it that way.
David Levine. Starting With Lines, but Ending With Truth
(Michael Kimmelman, An Appraisal, Art & Design, NY Times, 10-30-09)
Edward Lowe Dies at 75; a Hunch Led Him to Create Kitty Litter
(Robert McG. Thomas Jr, NY Times, 10-6-96)
Obits from the Telegraph
(which show a distinctive U.K. obit style)
Portraits of Grief
. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the New York Times published these short biographical sketches as a way to remember the lives of victims of the event. Ten years later, the Times revisited families to learn how they have coped, changed and carried on since that day: The Reckoning
. Selected portraits rotate on a regular basis.
The Life and Death of Anthony Lewis, a 'Tribune of the Law'
(Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, 3-25-13). The author of Gideon's Trumpet
changed the way legal issues are covered and understood in America.
Roger W. Straus Adored A Rascal--And So Did I
(Philip Weiss, Observer.com, 6-7-04). "Roger was a great publisher. Farrar, Straus & Giroux was a noble holdout. Isaac Bashevis Singer. Derek Wolcott. Etc. But to know Roger, and love him, wasn’t really about Literature and Culture. I’m trying to remember if I ever saw him wield a pen. Roger loved pleasure and fun and mischief, Roger fled bores like the plague and then told you about them. Roger never had a pious sober or correct thought in the three years that I hung around him. Why is it that the people who do anything interesting seem to take themselves so unseriously? Roger W. Straus Jr. was an elegant rascal; Roger was bad."
Remembering Punch Sulzberger: A Newsroom and a Beloved Publisher
(Arthur Gelb, Opinion, NY Times 9-30-12). See also Arthur O. Sulzberger, Publisher Who Transformed The Times for New Era, Dies at 86
(Clyde Haberman, NY Times, 9-29-12)
Chiune Sugihara, Japan Diplomat Who Saved 6,000 Jews During Holocaust, Remembered
(Jaweed Kaleem, Huffington Post, 1-24-13). Not an obit, but a remembrance--of a hero.
(John Gittings, The Guardian, 11-4-12). Chinese-born author best known for her 1952 novel A Many-Splendoured Thing
• The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries
by Marilyn Johnson. Read a selection from this delightful book about "vivid obituaries" and obituary writers on Marilyn's website
• Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers
by Alana Baranick, Stephen Miller, and Jim Sheeler.
• Life After Death: The Art of the Obituary
by Nigel Starck. Check this interesting review by Graeme Leech
(The Australian News, 8-26-06). "Murdoch's revolution brought more space to fill, hence editors turned to obituaries, with their long narratives and steady supply of subjects. A new breed of obituary editors appeared, apparently bent on ridding their columns of euphemisms and dullards....Starck looks at what it takes to make it to the obituary page. He points out that women are in a minority of about one to four. Then he suggests six areas that may attract an editor: fame, association with fame, single acts of notoriety, heroism, villainy and eccentricity. Perhaps some of these criteria tend to exclude women, with the exception of those wives or mistresses of famous men, in which case it can be an excuse to revisit the life of the man, if deceased."
• Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives
by Jim Sheeler (an anthology celebrating life, by a Pulitzer Prize-winning obituary writer)
• The Last Word: The New York Times Book of Obituaries and Farewells : A Celebration of Unusual Lives
, ed. by Marvin Siegel
• 52 McGs.: The Best Obituaries from Legendary New York Times Reporter Robert McG. Thomas
. Publishers Weekly wrote: "A 'lover of the farfetched and the overlooked,' as novelist Mallon puts it in his appreciative introduction, the late New York Times reporter Robert McG. Thomas Jr. (1939-2000) developed a loyal following for quirky, witty obituaries that illuminated the lives of people not automatically destined for 'the Newspaper of Record.'"
• The Obit Kit
(Susan Soper's workbook)
• The Obits: The New York Times Annual 2012
(ed. William McDonald, foreword by Pete Hamill). Obits from August 2010 to July 2011.
• The Economist Book of Obituaries
ed. Ann Wroe and Keith Colquhoun (from obits published in The Economist from 1994 to 2008).
Kathryn Mayo Candresse (1953-2008)
Kathryn Mayo Candresse died August 7, 2008, in Birmingham, Alabama. Born May 29, 1953, she was a native of Birmingham and had lived near Bordeaux, France, for the past twenty-two years. Her family posted an official obituary in the local paper, for her father's generation. The one that follows Kathy wrote herself, for her friends. Her sister, Donna Mayo, is my good friend.
After dancing a tight tango with cancer for five years, Kathryn Mayo was eliminated from the dance contest August 7, 2008. In lieu of a wake worthy of her Irish heritage, her family will be receiving friends at Jefferson Memorial Gardens funeral home from 6:00pm to 8:00pm, August 8th. Funeral services will be held at 10:00am, August 9th.
Although born and raised in Birmingham, Kathy Mayo lived most of her adult life in Bordeaux, France where she found a culture more in tune with her philosophical bent and taste for fine wine. Kathy worked in research and teaching in Microbiology at the University of Bordeaux and always said that if she were reincarnated the ultimate irony would be to come back as a lab mouse.
She is survived by her husband, Thierry Candresse, virologist, and her daughter, Camille, sweetie-pie, who reside in France. Her surviving family in America consists of her father, John C. Mayo; her older brother's family, John P. and Ellen Mayo, and offspring Bradley, Mimi, and Anna (of Nashville, TN); her younger sister's family, Donna and her husband Forrest Duncan, Donna's daughter Gray Vargas, and Forrest's children, Caroline and Graham Duncan. .
Kathryn will be remembered by her fellow students at E.B.Erwin High School for her knobby knees and thick glasses, by the students of Auburn University for her witless choice of major subject (Botany), and by professors at the Pennsylvania State University for her total lack of seriousness as a student. They gave her a master's degree in Plant Pathology against their better judgment…
The accomplishments of which she was most proud were her black belt in Aikido, actually getting paid for playing the harp for weddings and receptions, staying married to the same person for over 20 years, being able to make herself understood in French, having a baby at the age of 41, and a prize for research on a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers.
Living well is the best revenge
(Ask Amy Daily, on the pleasures of reading obituaries, 11-2-12)
"Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."
~William Butler Yeats
The Coffins of Little Hope
by Timothy Schaffert. Writes Publishers Weekly: "It's small town, big drama in Schaffert's sublime latest (after Devils in the Sugar Shop) as Essie Myles, an 83-year-old widowed obituary writer for a small Nebraska newspaper stumbles onto the story of her life....Schaffert spins out the story and its offbeat characters with compassion, spoofing the nation's voracious appetite for "news" and suggesting that perhaps not all stories are created equal. Piercing observations and sharp, subtle wit make this a standout."