I like to joke that I read the obituaries these days for the same reasons I used to look at Police Beat when I was much younger –sooner rather than later I’m going to see someone I know.
But reading obits regularly in at least a couple of papers for years now has gotten me to a point where I notice trends in obit writing and I’ve formed opinions on what works and what doesn’t.
One thing that used to bug me was when some 87 year-old died and there in the obit was a picture of them from their high school yearbook or, more commonly for men, a picture of them in the military. C’mon, I thought, they haven’t looked like that in 70 years! But over time I’ve changed my mind. I rather like the pictures from other eras of their life. And why not. An obit, a good one, gives a brief biography and tells this person’s story in an all-to-short and concise way. So who’s to say what picture should be used? I mean, let’s face it, most of us looked a whole lot better “back then” than we do at the time of our death.
I remember after my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer she, at some point, picked the picture she wanted used in her obit and gave it to my sister. She didn’t write her own obit like some people do, but she did want to pick the picture. It was a recent picture at the time –although she went on to live productively for another two or three years, well beyond what was expected.
The pictures that do kind of bother me are the ones that are from, say, a drivers license (seen it more than once) or obviously cropped from a family group photo. I know that deaths often occur unexpectedly and the survivors are sometimes left with few options when it comes to current pictures of the deceased. But that’s where the old photo comes in handy and I think they are more than perfectly appropriate.