Apparently, I have passed away.
August 31, 2015 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Slate reports on the rise of the changing world of death notices. (SL Slate)
posted by roomthreeseventeen (31 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
A friend of mine did some design work recently for something he called "The Knot but for funerals". It sounded like both a crazy good and crazy bad idea. I haven't seen anything online about it, maybe they are still in beta. But anyway. Heads up, it's going to get weirder.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:14 AM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is a (living) professor in my department who wrote his own obituary and has posted it on the internet since approximately 1986. A few years ago, it got forwarded to a listserv in his field and everyone assumed that he actually was dead, leading to some consternation when he showed up to work the next morning and disrupted the tentative funeral planning.
posted by sciatrix at 9:19 AM on August 31, 2015 [18 favorites]


Made me think of The Late Captain Pierce. I'm sure it's just a coincidence but it was the 4th episode of the 4th season and if I'm not mistaken, 4 is also an unlucky number in Korea.
posted by juiceCake at 9:33 AM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know when they started doing it, years ago I guess, but Macleans in Canada has the best obituaries I've ever read: The End. Normal people. Written about in such a tender, loving way that I'm nearly always in tears when I read them.

I mean, read this obituary: Paul Joseph Friday, 1957-2015. This was not a famous Canadian. Yet there he is on the back page of the biggest magazine in Canada.
posted by GuyZero at 9:35 AM on August 31, 2015 [15 favorites]


Agreed re: style in Macleans. I always find those the most interesting part of the magazine, tbh.
posted by Kitteh at 9:46 AM on August 31, 2015


I have seen at least two wacky-news articles about aged people whose obituaries concluded "in lieu of flowers, please do not vote for a Democrat." As a statement about politics and demographics, it requires no comment.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:09 AM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is a (living) professor in my department who wrote his own obituary and has posted it on the internet since approximately 1986. A few years ago, it got forwarded to a listserv in his field and everyone assumed that he actually was dead, leading to some consternation when he showed up to work the next morning and disrupted the tentative funeral planning.
sciatrix

"It took long enough, but let's raise a glass to that asshole finally being dea...oh, shit! Hey Steve! So...happy...to see you're alive and well..."
posted by Sangermaine at 11:32 AM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've got a good idea of how the bespoke suit I'd like to buried in should look. Because of fluctuations in my taste and weight over the years it's not practical to have it made in advance, so I always carry with me a piece of cloth in my favoured pattern. I call it my Dead Man's Swatch.
posted by comealongpole at 11:48 AM on August 31, 2015 [24 favorites]


^terrible lie
posted by comealongpole at 11:49 AM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


A bloke I know used to work for an industry magazine. One day in October 1983, he was putting the latest issue to press when he heard the industry had been paying tribute to a prominent figure at a conference going on that day. He leapt to the conclusion that Prominent Figure must have died, wrote a quick obituary from the clippings file, remembreed to add the words "...who died this week" to a different page's photo caption and sent everything off to the presses. "Job done," he thought, patting himself on the back for such swift and conscientious action.

Next day, copies of the magazine went out to subscribers. The first hint our hero had that anything was wrong came as a faxed letter from Prominent Figure himself, angrily pointing out that he wasn't dead, and saying the mag's obituary had "caused needless distress to my wife and family". The magazine was forced to carry the letter verbatim in its next issue, together with a suitably grovelling correction: "We very much regret ... published incorrectly ... we apologise" and so forth.

It turned out that Prominent Figure had been getting all those tributes at the conference not because he'd just died, but because he'd just announced he was about to retire as president of one of the industry's leading organisations. We all had a good old laugh about that, not least at the suggestion that Prominent Figure's wife and kids had seemed so willing to believe the guy they shared a breakfast table with every morning was, in fact, dead.
posted by Paul Slade at 11:58 AM on August 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


Death Notices were big money for the newspaper I used to work at. We had our own homegrown database, but then everyone said legacy.com was the way to go because OMGGuest Books! and BOOM there went half of our profits. Plus, the Guest Books were so annoying to deal with because the deceased's relatives would call us to complain about anytime something mildly irreverent was posted.

I also just read all of the current obituaries in Macleans and I think I'm never going outside again.
posted by kimberussell at 12:02 PM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Dead Man's Swatch

Jesus christ. Slow clap.
posted by deadwax at 12:03 PM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine did some design work recently for something he called "The Knot but for funerals". It sounded like both a crazy good and crazy bad idea. I haven't seen anything online about it, maybe they are still in beta. But anyway. Heads up, it's going to get weirder.

In general I hate the creeping standardization and social-media-ification of what seems like every last interpersonal function, but I have to admit I think pretty much anything that can ease up the mental/emotional bandwidth of people in acute grief is probably a good thing.
posted by threeants at 12:17 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Novelty obit fact-checking? That sounds like a nice little mystery novel series waiting for someone to write it.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:23 PM on August 31, 2015


If you haven't had the pleasure of submitting an obit to your local paper recently, you might be surprised to learn that a) They are not free, and b) They cost a ridiculously pretty penny. The one my wife's family submitted for her step-mom (which was anything but long) cost them a couple hundred dollars. I can't begin to imagine what that 1,300-word obit mentioned in the Slate piece would have cost. I wouldn't be surprised if it came close to a grand. I suppose, YMMV, depending on the paper, of course.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:36 PM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


in lieu of flowers, please do not vote for a Democrat

They probably anticipate being lonely in the after life so voting Republican or Tea Party or Independent will speed the deaths of their family members and friends so they can see them again sooner.
posted by juiceCake at 1:04 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


^terrible lie

So you fabric-ated that whole story?
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:33 PM on August 31, 2015 [5 favorites]


Kook Cyrus Aliyak, 1987-2014 - man, than is an obirtuary. I hate to say I loved it because I'd rather that he not have died, but that story reads like a novel. This could be the precis for a Michael Ondaatje or Farley Mowat story.
posted by GuyZero at 1:36 PM on August 31, 2015


Seventy-four-year-old Barbara ”Gigi” Shippee, a longtime North Kingstown [RI] resident, was a huge fan of the New England Patriots and the team’s quarterback, Tom Brady.

She called him “my Tom” and was sure her “Tom could do no wrong.”

So when the mother of three and grandmother of eight died last week, her family wanted to put something in her obituary that would make a statement.

“In lieu of flowers, please make memorial contributions to ‘Tom Brady’s Deflategate Defense’ as she was the Ultimate Patriots Fan,” the obituary stated...

Family members said that the request for donations to Brady’s defense fun were in jest. Shippee had an incredible sense of humor, but she had a big heart, too. Since Brady really doesn’t need financial support for his defense, the family respectfully asks that fans and friends make a donation to a charity of their choice.
I've read two other similar obits this year. Feelings are running high.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:05 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


"As it turned out, 104-year-old Dorothy McElhaney’s daughter had plagiarized large portions of her obituary from a Florida woman who died of pancreatic cancer earlier this year."

From the obit: "If you want to, you can look for me in the evening sunset or with the earliest spring daffodils or amongst the flitting and fluttering butterflies. You know I'll be there in one form or another."

I mean ...... how is this even plagiarism? Isn't that how basically every obituary reads? "You can always find me when your heart aches for me, wafting amongst the twinkling stars in the firmament." I see variations of this on Facebook almost every day (dog rescue groups, mainly). The only thing missing is The Rainbow Bridge.
posted by blucevalo at 2:46 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


I went to my doctor a couple of weeks ago.
He greeted me with: "I thought you were dead!"

I don't know whether he was joking or not since he does have a sense of humour and I had recently spent some time in hospital with a strange bug.
posted by Burn_IT at 2:50 PM on August 31, 2015


Here in the UK, the newspapers have always operated an established code in writing the obituaries of public figures. It's all based on the principle that one should not speak ill of the dead, but that those in the know will get the message anyway. Key terms include:

"Convivial" (a drunk).
"Did not suffer fools gladly" (a foul-tempered bully).
"Fun-loving" (enjoyed breaking other people's property).
"Robust views" (deranged).
"Died suddenly (killed himself).
"A great raconteur" (a bore).
"Tireless worker" (neglected his family).
"Lifelong romantic" (serial adulterer).
"Tended to polarise opinion" (almost everyone hated him).
"Stormy relationship" (he beat his wife).
posted by Paul Slade at 2:50 PM on August 31, 2015 [24 favorites]


I need to designate a Mefite to do my Obitfilter post when my ongoing Heart Failure condition achieves a total flunking out. My only regret is never having achieved anything worth posting in the Blue rather than MetaTalk. But then, that is appropriate since I have been All Talk.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:04 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


The viral obituary: Death is catching.
posted by Michele in California at 3:11 PM on August 31, 2015


Those Macleans backpage obituaries are perhaps the only part of the magazine I miss since retiring our subscription.
posted by piyushnz at 3:16 PM on August 31, 2015


If you haven't had the pleasure of submitting an obit to your local paper recently, you might be surprised to learn that a) They are not free, and b) They cost a ridiculously pretty penny. The one my wife's family submitted for her step-mom (which was anything but long) cost them a couple hundred dollars. I can't begin to imagine what that 1,300-word obit mentioned in the Slate piece would have cost. I wouldn't be surprised if it came close to a grand. I suppose, YMMV, depending on the paper, of course.

Soon it will be a decade since my father died and I'm still annoyed by this to the point of basically refusing to buy the local paper ever again. The charge for printing what seemed to be a modest obituary was roughly about ten times what would appear reasonable. I paid it, very reluctantly, only because I realized that in decades and centuries hence it would probably be the only surviving source of information concerning what my father accomplished in his life. I felt like I was paying for a place in some future archive, not a newspaper announcement.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 3:38 PM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


I paid it, very reluctantly, only because I realized that in decades and centuries hence it would probably be the only surviving source of information concerning what my father accomplished in his life. I felt like I was paying for a place in some future archive, not a newspaper announcement.

FWIW, I felt the same and did the same, for that very reason.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:46 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


At my paper, the price per line for death notices was the 2nd highest price in the classifieds department, second only to legal notices, many of which were bought by government offices. Death Notices can command a high price because of 1) sentimentality and 2) they are often placed by funeral homes and rolled into the cost of the service. We only accepted them from funeral homes after a very embarrassing prank a few years before I started.
posted by kimberussell at 4:50 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


I went to my doctor a couple of weeks ago.
He greeted me with: "I thought you were dead!"


"The reports of your incompetence have been mildly exaggerated."

When I was in journalism (not all that long ago, really), the newspapers I worked for regarded obituaries as important local news. As an elder editor told me, "This is the only news story most of these people will ever have written about them." It took me a while, but I finally came around to that way of thinking. Still, it took nearly an act of God at the last paper I worked for to permit beloved pets to be listed as survivors. (A minor mutiny by pet-loving newsroom staff pushed upper management to relent.) Almost anything else had been good, though.

None of those papers treat obits now as anything but a cash cow. Print journalism is trying to stave off its own funeral over your dead body.
posted by bryon at 10:16 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


We only accepted them from funeral homes after a very embarrassing prank a few years before I started.

Tell us more ....
posted by Paul Slade at 11:21 PM on August 31, 2015


Seems an appropriate thread to post Victoria Coren-Mitchell's story about the memorial crashers who she tricked with a fake death notice.
posted by crocomancer at 4:41 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


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