Mila Turner is writing an obituary. Her own. After helping put one together for her stepfather as his Alzheimer’s disease worsened, she realized just how important it was to be able to contribute to one’s final testament while still alive and able to do so. “I don’t want anyone to ever have to guess who I was or what I accomplished,” Turner says. “I work too hard in this life to be misunderstood after death.”
As a genealogist and family historian, Turner probably has a finer sense of the value of remembrance and good recordkeeping than most, including what can make standard obituaries these days “quite boring.” But Turner is also in good health, and … she is only 27 years old.
With each passing day, it is becoming an even better time to die. At least if you’re concerned about being remembered in all of your idiosyncratic, mango-eating, dickey-wearing glory. With each selfie your phone collects, each recipe you share on Facebook, each thought you expel into cyberspace, you are amassing not only a larger digital footprint, but also a fuller testimony of what it means to be you. What will be made of this voluminous material, including who might tell your story when you go. Well, that’s a rather good story itself — and one with just as uncertain a future.
Is it time then to start thinking about writing the obit for the obituary itself?
For years, we’ve relied on the obituary to Offical spoeRecordkeeping, be death’s official spokesperson, to give some closure and meaning to our famous, infamous or wonderfully ordinary lives. But many of those on the “dead beat” — the professional obit writers who traffic daily in death so as to help us better appreciate life — are increasingly shuffling off their mortal toil, as layoffs, downsizing and other changes continue to engulf the world of print media.
Meantime, popular memorial websites such as Legacy.com, which now claims over 24 million monthly unique visitors and a database of over 20 million obituaries, continue to expand in size and — along with the Facebook pages of the departed — are quickly becoming the go-to sites for digital condolences and remembrances. Another new player in the field, the self-penned obituaries or “selfie obits” such as Turner’s, continue to multiply.
Is it time then to start thinking about writing the obit for the obituary itself? The First Rule of the Obit, after all, is “Be prepared.” Most significant obits are drafted well in advance of their subject’s actual demise, so why not start assembling the obituary’s file if it is indeed at risk of expiring?
To do so, though, it helps to know a little something about its next of kin. And when you make the relevant inquiries, you run square into an online population that is buzzing with new approaches to death, not to mention into the Second Rule of the Obit: Never pronounce someone dead before their time.