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Obits are tributes

Published January 07. 2012 09:02AM


At one time, virtually every newspaper ran obituaries for free. Rising newsprint costs and the use of integrated technology which allows obits to be displayed on common Web sites - at a cost to newspapers - forced newspapers to begin implementing a charge.

I was appalled, at first, at such a policy. I always argued that obituaries were news and should be free. They attract readers.

I've changed my mind that they should be free. Here's why.

When obituaries were free in the newspaper, every publication had its own specific format. Most wouldn't list the names of grandchildren. The text was straight-forward. Nearly every complementary adjective for the deceased was deleted.

By charging for obits, the family of the deceased (or the deceased, themselves, if they write the obit in advance) can put virtually whatever they want and make it a keepsake testament.

Do a search of different newspapers and you'll see some very flowery writing for the deceased.

Messages like "he was devoted to his family" and "his best friend was his dog, Spot" are not uncommon in obits.

We've seen obits that list hobbies, the names of over a dozen grandchilden, pets, best friends, detailed military accomplishments, and even the subject's favorite foods.

In some newspapers (including the TIMES NEWS) there have been obituaries for pets. An obit for Cody, a dog owned by a Lehighton family, which ran a couple of weeks ago, affectionately stated of Cody, "He loved to kiss the faces of children, something that he enjoyed doing right up to the end."

The obit tells about the dogs brothers and sisters, human family, and personal sentiments.

More and more individuals are writing their own obituaries. They begin writing them usually around middle age and update them, just in case something happens. Most obits are still written, though, by the loved ones of the deceased.

As an example of what you'll see in today's obits that you never saw years ago:

• An obit for Lila Kessinger in South Dakota states: "For hobbies, she enjoyed playing bridge, cooking, and faithfully attending thousands of baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball, football games and tennis matches. She was her husband, children and grandchildren's biggest fan and supporter. Her faith, strength of spirit and endearing smile, well known by family and friends, will be dearly missed."

• The Naples (Fla.) news had this well-written obit: "Charles W. "Chuck" Iles went to his heavenly home with family present early Christmas morning 2011. He was 78 and living happily at home with his beloved wife of over 28 years Joanne."

Nobody likes to think about death, but take a minute to ponder how you want your obituary to read.

Lauren and I talked a few times about our obits. We both agreed we definitely want our grandchildren listed. We would probably mention "Lily," our dog.

Hopefully we won't have to concern ourselves with such details for a long time.

We like to think about life and try not to dwell on death. When the inevitable does occur, a carefully-written obituary with an accurate account of the life of the deceased is, indeed, a lasting tribute.

Every now and then we come across an old newspaper and see where someone we knew years ago has died. Or, we reach into a drawer and pull out the obit of some family member of years past. The obit likely gave the name of the spouse if married, parents' names, church membership, childrens' names, and service times. But they weren't as detailed as many obits are today.

Just recently I spoke to a friend - a very educated woman who buys the New York Times every Sunday without fail and reads only sophisticated material.

She confessed that in the Times, the first thing she turns to each week is the obituary page. Few newspapers can match the Times for obituary writing.

In large city newspapers as well as small town publications, obituaries tell stories. They help you remember - and even learn about - individuals that you might not have even met, but came to admire through the written personal accounts.

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