Wednesday, November 28, 2007


So, I started working on an obituary for Hans Klint last night. I've worked on a few before (Ray Kulp, Pat Davis, Chris Barefoot), and I regularly check obits in the News-Miner. It seems to me that a proper obituary is really a short biography, yet most, written by relatives while still in shock, tend not to reflect who that person was except in a statistical sense. They are more often representative of the positive emotions felt toward the deceased by a person who cared enough to write about them. And, alas, they are often schmaltzy and dull.

People are rarely dull (although quite a few are not what we'd call sparkling conversationalists), and a whole life's worth of experience needs more than sappy sentimentality to sum it properly. When I go, I want my warts discussed as well as my sterling qualities. Enough of not speaking ill of the dead: I want people to know who I really was, not what grieving people could bear to write. It doesn't seem right to so shortchange an entire life that way.

But of course, obituaries aren't written for the dead, they're written to inform the public of someone's death.

The other consideration when I write an obituary is that, to write an appropriate biography, it's important that I actually know what I'm writing about. Therefore, I've only written about people I actually knew. In Hans Klint's case, I knew him very well, but almost twenty years ago (although he occasionally called out of the blue). So this obituary will really be about what I knew of him then, a few stories that are representative of my experience of him. So it will be limited in its own way.

1 comment:

Ishmael said...

Some of the best writing I've ever seen have been obituaries.

I think one could also call an obituary a story to remind people of someone's life, not just inform them of their death.

It seems you that in the work you do.