Having the Final Word
About What We’ve Done
Remarkable sendoffs. Or virtual tombstones. And like the graveyard kind, not everyone will have one. To wrap the experience of living with a sharp focus, few things are more revealing that an obituary. That’s why many are now writing their own.
A well-composed death notice makes even those who knew the person feel special. And jealous if they hadn’t. A favorite of newspaper readers, is not for the feeble neophyte or the phony-flowery scriber. But two of the most remarkable here were self penned.
An obituary is designed to outlive the deceased, but many have beaten it at its own game, and survived it to tell the story. (Somehow, Monty Python comes to mind.) Or Mark Twain, even though that ‘reports of my death were greatly exaggerated’ quote is a misquote.
He was victim of one of the earliest mistakes about somebody’s passing, and had a chance to have a laugh about it. It still happens: in what became known as the ‘CNN Incident,’ a bunch of celebrities were all declared ‘dead’ in April 2003.
Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, and even Dick Cheney, which was called the ‘U.K.’s favorite grandmother,’ were among them. Parts of a 2002 demise notice of England’s Queen Mother were used for their pre-obituaries, and prematurely leaked online.
THE PREFAB & THE QUIRKY
It was an accident, but quite possible: newspapers keep a database of celebrity obituaries ready for when they pass on. Nine years before her death, Queen Mum herself had already had her own untimely death aired by the Australian media.
From the man who said ‘god is dead,’ William Hamilton (whose notice was greeted by a few devilish ‘thank gods’), to the woman who had more titles than anyone, according to the Guinness, (and 25 names), La Duquesa de Alba, the afterword is often all we’ll ever heard of them.
The ‘King of Cat Burglars,’ Peter Scott, or Madeline Gins, an architect who had ‘decided not to die,’ are two gems of lives most people wouldn’t know about it, hadn’t been for these few sentences published when they died.
THE RIGHT TO FINAL EDIT
It’s no mystery that writing your own obituary is becoming popular; everything in this era seems to be about promoting a social idea of oneself. It’s just the latest way to control the narrative, and prevent a silly act, or a crime, from seizing a lifetime of trying to look good.
It’s a selfie made up of words, a bit more elaborated than the ancient epitaph (Colltales has a ton here). But its aim is the (more)
* The Hipothesis
* Before Afterlife
* Ways to Go