The cold, hard truth about obits

Posted on 23. Feb, 2012 by

Last Tuesday my morning was started with a call from an angry reader.

The yelling started at 8:05, and I quit watching the clock somewhere around 8:09. The woman was upset because we did not print her relative’s obit as it was submitted by the funeral home. There were no mistakes in what we printed; she was just angry because we omitted some information.

I tried to explain to the woman that we write obituaries in a particular format. By using the same basic format for everyone, it ensures the obituaries are similar in style, and it keeps them at a reasonable length. We do have space limitations in the paper, so length is a consideration when we have 6 to 10 obits.

The following are our obit “rules:”

* We do not say that parents preceded a person in death if that person is over 50.

* We list only immediate family as survivors. This includes sons, daughters, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, brothers and sisters. We do not list aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces or nephews by name. The only time we list a niece or nephew by name is if the deceased had no children of his or her own.

*We do not list dogs, cats, or any other animal as a survivor.

*We can’t say the deceased “loved his grandchildren,” “enjoyed cooking” or “was a joy to all who knew her” because those are things we can’t verify. What if the deceased was not a “joy” at all, but instead a grump with not a kind word for anyone? Our obits include facts that can be verified if necessary — date and place of birth, college degrees, occupations, organizations memberships, etc.

*We also have particular wording that is used every time — no exception.

Having said all of this, I want to emphasize that we run obits for free. Most newspapers charge for obits, but it’s a service we’re happy to provide. If a family does not like the format we use, we always suggest they buy an ad and run the obit exactly as they wish.

In an ad, your loved one can be “wrapped in the loving arms of Jesus,” pets Wolfgang Spartikus and Rasputin Earl can be listed as survivors and you can highlight your loved one’s affinity for giving wet willies — you’re limited only by creativity.

The angry woman last week refused to listen to any sort of explanation and had no interest in buying an ad. Truth is, I wasn’t particularly interested in selling her an ad, I just wanted her to understand we’re not the uncaring, cold-hearted group she assumed.


4 Responses to “The cold, hard truth about obits”

  1. Donna Mixon

    23. Feb, 2012

    Well said Kristen!

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  2. Susan

    23. Feb, 2012

    And I am sure she is not normally the maniacal idiot she is made to seem like in this post? Considering it was an obit, I am sure it has been a very long and trying time for her and you happened to catch the brunt of it..

    I sure hope she doesn’t read this and feel worse than I am sure she already does..

    Free or not, most people come to think of an obit and a short story about the deceased life. Long or short, good or bad… Was she made aware of the “protocols” that you used prior to the placement? Maybe she would have done it differently? Given the opportunity.. Not wanting to argue but I have been on both sides of the issue and can see both points..

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  3. Tara

    23. Feb, 2012

    “In an ad, your loved one can be “wrapped in the loving arms of Jesus,” pets Wolfgang Spartikus and Rasputin Earl can be listed as survivors and you can highlight your loved one’s affinity for giving wet willies. ” Made me laugh, sorry you had to listen to an irrational rant.

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  4. Sandy F

    23. Feb, 2012

    First and foremost, I think it is a great thing you do for our community, not to mention with a pic and for free!! I also understand a little where this lady is coming from having had gone through a very similar incident recently ourselves. The funeral home had us write the obit, said the obit was free for Wise County and left us with the impression our full obit would be placed. Had they said to run the full obit would cost at the time we would have been more than glad to pay for it then!! (Rerunning the full obit after the fact seemed a bit redundant to us.) Our best friend’s “immediate” family had nothing to do with him. We had a hard time just getting her to come fill out the paperwork at the funeral home, yet WE were not “allowed” to be mentioned in the obit though he lived here with me off and on most of his life. “She” wasn’t even bothered to come to his service we had for him!
    I do not fault this woman for being angry maybe she too was misled, nor do I fault The Messenger. I think those that send in the obits need to make sure to explain this to the families… blood or loyalty… I get obits are legal documents, but I know many folks that don’t have anyone and if it were me, I would like folks to know I DID have someone who was there for me mentioned, even if in quotations as a good friend. But l reiterate, if we would have known “at the time” we would have been more than glad to have paid for an ad! And while here on the subject, a big THANK YOU to Wise County for paying for his cremation or else we would have had to (gladly but as a SEVERE hardship) pay for that too. His “immediate family” wouldn’t even pay for the death certificates. But PLEASE have it explained that only a small edited obit is free and explain what can or cannot be placed in it would relieve you and them of even further heart ache at this horrible time in their lives!

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