Late last year Jessica A. Smith of the Order of the Golden Rule (OGR) asked me to be a course leader for a 2016 OGR-sponsored webinar about writing obituaries. The webinar, titled “How to Write an Obituary Worth Reading,” is slated for mid-June, and “will look at the factors which make a good obituary” as well as “provide a forum where funeral professionals can share their obituary-writing experiences and learn from one another.”
The topic was prompted, in part, by the recent rise of the “viral” obituary, where the story (or the personal agenda of the writer) resonates so deeply with readers that the obituary is shared — using popular social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter — by millions of Internet users.
You know the ones I’m talking about. Think back to 2013 when the obituary of Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick was published. This scathing “tribute,” written by her surviving adult children, included sentences like these: “Everyone she met, adult or child, was tortured by her cruelty and exposure to violence, criminal activity, vulgarity, and hatred of the gentle or kind human spirit,” and “We celebrate her passing from this earth and hope she lives in the after-life reliving each gesture of violence, cruelty and shame that she delivered on her children.” It also featured a call for “a national movement and dedicated war against child abuse in the United States of America.” This lurid story, combined with the expression of vengeful desire and the direct “call-to-action,” made this obituary an overnight global sensation. Read the rest of this entry »