Back when obits were news stories written by live journalists, the truth of your life as reported in the newspaper reigned. Sometimes long-buried scandals and convictions were unearthed just in time to cast a pall of embarrassment over your wake.
But these days, you, paying by the line, can say pretty much anything you want in your obit. It may be your first chance ever to tell your family exactly what you think of them without having to face any consequences.
That family will probably be too overwhelmed by losing you, or perhaps by the shock of your sudden death or of the bill to come for your funeral, to write well anyway. If you don't want your life story coated in mawkish goo, you might consider writing your own obit. Tell your own story your own way, and perhaps, like Lou Nenninger of Alamagordo, N.M., make yourself truly memorable.
Grace Nenninger's Obituary by the Alamogordo Daily News is on Legacy.com, totally legit, and brilliant.
Lou died last Monday "at the extraordinary age of 93 (and a half)." Right off the bat, you know this is not a boilerplate obit for the dearly beloved.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Harold, and son Larry and is survived (amazingly, considering the grief she gave them) by her daughters Franke Gill, of Dallas, Marty Mills, of Cloudcroft, Sue Kehoe, of Artesia, and Teresa Bornmann, of Alamogordo, who were comforted in knowing she kept all who were able to visit her laughing until the end.
Near the end of this short obit rich with detail, the family adds,
We are required to insert this disclaimer, written by Lou (or we will not inherit anything!)
"Do not believe anything the wretched girls tell you. I was kind and generous and loving and beautiful and in general the most wonderful person you could ever have known. So there."
For inspiration, you might check out Nina Lentini's Life Without End: "A collection of lines from obituaries that enlarge our appreciation of the human spirit." It's where I found Lou and her fellow New Mexican Dan Bailey of Albuquerque, a biker who, on Feb. 7, "died with his boots off, surprisingly enough." And that's just the lead. Nobody but Dan himself would dare have written this one.
Parting shot: The photo with Lou's obituary at Legacy.com is a detail from a small photo accompanying the same text at the funeral home site. I've enlarged it here (with considerable loss of detail) so you can see
the carnival photo backdrop Lou stuck her head through for a portrait of herself Lou as a Wild West madam holding a pistol as she settles in with a bottle of bourbon and a hand with too many cards to be poker. Lou, we wish we'd known you.
Update: Lou's daughter, Franke Gill, wrote to say, "Just wanted you to know that the photo is not a carnival backdrop with a hole, it is her, dressed up and photographed about 3 months ago at the old time photographer's studio in Cloudcroft, NM."