Monday, August 20, 2012

O, obit. (They ain’t kidding about the high cost of dying.)

There was an article on the other day on folks who are taking part in the “latest trend in dying: the self-written obituary.”

Having done all they can to dictate exactly how their funerals will go — down to playlists, menus, and off-beat hearses — baby boomers, and some members of the Silent Generation, are now taking control over the story of their lives.

O, obit. Why not?

Who wants a boring old obituary with “just the facts”? And, let’s face it, most of us aren’t born great, haven’t achieved greatness, and will die waiting for greatness to be thrust upon us. Which means that there’s no behind the scenes NY Times obituary writer with a file chock-a-block full of bits about our lives, just waiting for the word so he can truck it out to commemorate us.

But I must say that, while I won’t be granted a free, this is news, death notice, I also don’t want anyone paying to publish my obituary, either. (Talk about the ultimate in vanity press.)

Which is not to say that I don’t want to have a final word or two.

So maybe one of these days I’ll get around to pulling together something or other for someone or other to read at my funeral, errrrr, the celebration of my life. (I believe I’ve already made it clear that a smidge of my ashes should be strewn in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Leicester, Massachusetts, where I’ll be with four generations of Rogers-Trainors; another smidge tossed in Galway Bay; and a final soupçon left in Fenway Park. (On this final destination for my final destination: if the Red Sox continue their pathetic ways, please spit in the ashes, muddy up a baseball, and hurl it at someone. But please don’t let my brother Rick be the one to do the hurling, as he’s likely to actually hit a player.)

And if I’m still blogging -  if blogging, indeed, still exists – I should leave a final entry, a ghost-post as it were, with instructions on how to publish it. (Hey, it’s free!)

As a writer of sorts, I won’t have any problem pulling together my swan song, but for those looking for a place to start, there’s Susan Soper’s ObitKit, who’s dying to help folks “put the fun in funeral.”

Actually, no one of Irish descent, who grew up poring over the Irish Sports Pages (i.e., the obituaries), needs to be told how to put the fun in funeral. Why, even at the funeral of my well-beloved Aunt Margaret, whose sudden death (okay, she was 85) devastated those of us who loved her, a number of us blew whistles as we got in our cars for the procession from her church in West Newton to her burial in Leicester. (To anyone curious about funeral processions that process for 50 miles, the cars do stay together on the Mass Pike, but they go the speed limit, resuming funeral pace when off the Pike.) You may ask what we were doing with whistles at a funeral. Well, we didn’t ask the funeral parlor where Margaret was waked to have baskets full of glow-in-the-dark whistles (with the funeral parlor’s name and address embossed on them) in the ladies room, did we? I mean, if they didn’t want us to take them, they wouldn’t have been there. And what good’s a whistle if you don’t go and blow on it?

As for owning your own obit:

Statistics on the number of seniors working to meet the ultimate deadline are hard to come by, but obituary-writing courses are being offered on-line and in workshops, and informal obit-writing sessions are popping up at book club meetings and girlfriend reunions.

Why discuss Hillary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies, when it’s so much more enjoyable to work with that most scintillating and engrossing of topics: me, myself, and, of course, I.

Auto-obituary writers should not let themselves get too carried away.

The [Boston] Globe charges $10 a line for a death notice, which is about 35-40 characters, plus an $18.50 fee to put the notice on for one year. At the New York Times, a death notice costs $55 per line, which runs about 28 characters, and the paper’s fee is $55.

The Globe is a regular bargain, but when you do the math, even things there can get pretty pricey. A 500 word story-de-moi would translate into 2,000 – 2,500 characters. Let’s go with the lower end of the range here. At 40 characters per line, that’s 50 lines. So your death notice would cost you, well, not you-you, but someone who knew you-you well enough to get your obituary into the paper, would have to fork over $500 – plus extra for that year on So obituary writers had best make sure that they put aside a few bucks if they want to make sure that they get published. (As opposed to having your grieving relict say, “$500 bucks to get this load of crap in the obituary section? No way. I’ll just mimeo copies and hand them out at the funeral.”)

The Times, as befits the country’s Paper of Record, is far costlier: 5.5 times per line – and that’s for a shorter line.

Even if you got your story down to a tweet, for five 28 character lines (hitting the tweet 140 max), you’d (again, not you-you) would be set back $275. And that’s for a tweet.

With this self-obituary-ing craze, the high cost of dying  seems to have gotten a bit higher.

My sister Trish sent the link to this article to me, so a doff of the shroud to her.

And just to see what you could pack into 140 characters (this is 135),  here’s my death tweet:

Daughter, sister, wife, aunt, cousin, friend, colleague. Worcester girl. Red Sox fan. Loved Ireland. Pretty darned funny. A reader. Should have been a writer.

This is subject to change, of course. If the Red Sox keep going the way they’re going…

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