Obituary Guide

Review: "Writing an Obituary Worth Reading"


March 2, 2016

David McConkey

If you are at all curious about writing your own obituary, read this book!

With Writing an Obituary Worth Reading, author Martin Kimeldorf has given us a beautiful, moving, and vital work.

The book is both a thoughtful meditation and a practical guide. It’s for anyone contemplating their life, their death, and their obituary. The subtitle is A Guide to Writing a Fulfilling Life Review.

Kimeldorf places the personal obituary within a larger societal context. The obituary is changing everywhere: from the traditional newspaper page to new social media. For one thing, obituaries of the famous are written now in a more lively way. For another, the media are writing more news obituaries of ordinary people – turns out a wealth of fascinating material is there.

“The contemporary obituary is emerging as a distinct literary genre,” Kimeldorf says. “These short gems are written in a conversational voice with everyday language, wit, and insight.”

Kimeldorf notes that our time has been called “a golden age of obituary writing.”

Drawing inspiration from this new milieu are regular folks who are putting together their own obituaries. They want to have their say in how they are remembered. They wish to spare their families one more chore after death. And many would like to take a fresh look at their life and mortality; writing their own obit is a good way to take stock.

All in all, the obituary is another place where people are embracing the values of the new century: the authentic, the social, and the do-it-yourself.

By adding the criterion of “worth reading,” Kimeldorf puts a modern spin on the whole exercise. Make it interesting: in the style of creative or literary nonfiction. Throw out tired clichés. Experiment.

“Writing an obituary worth reading means taking an opportunity to look at your life with a creative slant,” Kimeldorf says. “Beginning with the facts most important to you, you craft an engaging tale based on your life experiences. Unlike a resumé written for an employer or a memoir written for your descendants, the audience for your obit begins with you.”

Take it easy: Kimeldorf encourages aspiring obituary writers. His advice? Try “writing the same way you informally chat with your friends. If you can relax into this kind of moment, then your obit will become a compelling read.”

Writing an ObituaryThe author asked some friends if they would write their own obituaries and submit them for publication in his book. Almost all immediately agreed. But then many had problems starting. Or they ran into obstacles during the editing stages. Kimeldorf took on the role of obituary writing coach. As he helped their writing, he gathered additional ideas for prompting memories and for refining an on-going work. As a result, his book is brimming with useful tips. 

Kimeldorf’s book includes 20 submitted obituaries. The writers range in age from 19 to over 80. Their compositions vary in length from six to 900 words. (Kimeldorf suspects that most people, however, would find both short and long pieces challenging. He recommends aiming for 250 to 600 words.)

But most important – whatever the age or style or length –  these obits of regular folks are “worth reading”!

Writing one’s own obituary leads naturally to reflecting on one’s own life. “The summing up of a life can bring a bit more clarity into your present moment at any age,” Kimeldorf observes. “The experience could renew your focus on your remaining time.”

One contributor was at first reluctant to participate. “I felt I would have nothing to contribute by way of a worthy obituary,” she said. She was only 38 and had been a stay-at-home-mom for the last 11 years. “Who would want to read about that?”

Instead, she discovered that the process was invigorating. “Writing my obituary forced a degree of introspection that I have not allowed myself for a long time,” she reported. “At times I feared it would be unpleasant – a reminder of all that I had not accomplished. On the contrary, I enjoyed delving into my memories and smiling at my past.”

Another contributor noted the sheer satisfaction and practical accomplishment of creating one’s own obit. “I know that my husband or anyone else doesn't have to do the task, and I get to tell my story my way!” she said. “What a great thing to do! Check, off the bucket list!” 

Martin Kimeldorf is a 67-year-old writer and teacher who lives near Olympia, Washington. He embodies the do-it-yourself ethic by self-publishing his book and making it available online. (The author gives away the first half of the book free as a PDF. The entire book can be purchased as a paperback book on Amazon.)

The modern obituary is good for everyone, the author concludes.

“Today’s obits are built with wit, conversational language, lyrics, and humble story telling,” he says. “In the process, they become brief memoirs.” He envisions this new literary art form will “make the obituary page as compelling as the comics.”

In the end, Kimeldorf invites readers of his book to feel empowered.

“I purposely solicited sample obituaries worth reading from neighbors and acquaintances. None were professional writers,” Kimeldorf points out. “They did it. You can too.”

* * *

See Also:

Writing an Obituary Worth Reading    Get the first half of the book free as a PDF

Writing an Obituary Worth Reading    Get the full book on Amazon.com      (on Amazon.ca)

Writing Your Own Obituary Offers Chance for Reflection

Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Stories

“Memoir Man” a Born Storyteller

A Family History Writing Workshop

Deepening Our Thinking in the Internet Age: Ten Tips

Ways to Leave a Legacy



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