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December 4, 2017 Beyond The Dash

The Rise of the Retrospective Obituary: Write a Life Story Months, Years or Decades Later

Write a detailed, autobiographical account of your loved one’s remarkable life

The Rise of the Retrospective Obituary: Write a Life Story Months, Years or Decades Later
Look through old photo albums for documents and memories to share. Memorializing special people some time after they passed away is a good way to honor their life. (Shutterstock)

When a loved one is dying, it can feel like time is standing still. How will you go on once the inevitable occurs? Especially in the event of a prolonged terminal illness, the eventual departure from this world can feel like time is in warp speed. 

The funeral is often a rush job

Suddenly, there are urgent arrangements to be made. The body must be transported to the funeral home, and decisions about organ donation may be a factor. The immediate family must be notified of the death, and condolences will pour in. You must make decisions about caskets, urns, floral arrangements, whether to include a slideshow and which musical selections will be featured in the service. All of these details matter, and each carries its own emotional weight for the person making decisions. 

It's the perfect storm—and in the eye of that storm comes the writing of the obituary. The obituary will serve as both the public notice of the loss that has occurred, as well as the final record of your loved one's life. A strong obituary will outline their achievements, interests, passions and milestones. Obituaries keep their memory alive by relaying the life story to readers for generations. The best obituaries inspire readers to live well and honor those who have lived before. 

There is typically a rush to publish an obituary, as people need to be notified of both the death and the funeral service in a timely manner. This leads many families to rush the writing of the obituary—or skip it altogether.

What is a "retrospective obituary"?

A retrospective obituary refers to a life story that is published some time after a death has occurred. It goes beyond the typical obituary, which outlines biographical milestones such as birth and death date, places employed, survivors, predeceased family members and service arrangements. A retrospective obituary will instead focus on the real moments that made up the life of the person who has passed away. It acts as a detailed memoir, rather than a death notice. 

Descriptive, engaging—and even entertaining—obituaries are gaining popularity in recent years. Was your loved one irreverent? Funny? Did they constantly lose their keys, and get ridiculously mad every time? The thing that you see the clearest when you remember your loved one is part of what made them special. As the one you love departs this earth, you might be struck with the realization that a traditional, formal funeral service and standard obituary wouldn't make sense for them. 

The retrospective obituary makes space for special people, warts and all. Quirky qualities are usually forgotten or deliberately left out of traditional obituaries, and the true memory of that person is lost forever. 

Create a story for someone you knew

Are you thinking of someone right now? Who do you know whose obituary fell short in portraying the remarkable life they lived? Whether it was a grandparent, sibling, parent or friend, the loved one you are thinking about deserves a tribute that does them justice. No matter how much time has passed, you can still create a meaningful tribute that will be read and shared forever. 

Death anniversaries are a particularly meaningful time to create a tribute to a loved one's life. As anniversaries approach, you may find yourself remembering the person, and the circumstances of their death, more often. Writing a retrospective obituary is a cathartic way to reminisce when your grief is renewed by the death anniversary. 

On Beyond the Dash, it's free to post a retrospective obituary online. Start telling your loved one's story today. 

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