Obituaries are the meaningful impressions and footprints we leave in the lives of others. It is the legacy we leave behind. It is the tribute we give the ones whose thoughtful words have bettered our lives. It is a form of grief. It is a way to remember their accomplishments and to learn from their experiences. Obituaries give you the medium to share your loss with your loved ones and your community.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Carlene Hempel, a teaching professor in the School of Journalism at Northeastern University, believes that obituaries are a masterpiece in Journalism. She asserts that obituary writing, in general, is an excellent medium to improve writing style for her students. She says The New York Times’ obituary of Fidel Castro was an outstanding example of such ‘masterpiece’.
“The key,” she says, “is capturing the person in death as he was in life, to really seek out the components of his personality that will come out in the writing.” “People will clip obituaries and save them for years. They’ll put them on their fridges, or keep them folded up in their sock drawers. It’s an enduring piece of journalism.”
While writing obituaries as a masterpiece may sound morbid, but it is important to express their honourable work, their life, and their influence on society. Hempel understands the nostalgic element of obituaries. She keeps the obituary of her grandmother, Ida Urbinati, taped to the wall of her office.
“I’m sitting here looking at it at my desk,” Hempel said in a phone interview. “I look at it all the time. It’s the last piece of something tangible I have of her.”
She enlists her students to write three obituaries each—one about themselves, another about a celebrity, and a third about a student unknown to them on campus who they must approach and convince to participate. She says these assignments—particularly the latter—force budding reporters to ask difficult, uncomfortable questions, but it’s interviewing experience that will serve them well in their journalism careers.
Obituaries are not just pieces of writing; they are the last palpable element of someone’s value and worth in one’s life.