Writing about Dead People: Penning obits that’ll knock the survivors dead!

Here is a silly piece I wrote under my fantastic new pen name, San Diego Melmac-Johnson. Because all journalists seem to have names that sound made-up.

Writing about Dead People: Penning obits that’ll knock the survivors dead!
By San Diego Melmac-Johnson

The obituary is a dead art. Most obits are as lifeless as their subjects or even worse, make the deceased sound like saints, which is very disappointing because the obituary section should be the one section of a newspaper devoted to the truth.

As a legendary journalist, I have taken it upon myself to create a concise guide for those who aim for accuracy and animation in their obituaries. Contrary to popular belief, obits can easily be the most interesting part of any news publication.

For illustration purposes, we will write about a fictional Nurse Rosemary May McCreagle, who was killed by swallowing needles. She was 87, she may be in heaven and was survived by her nephew and beagle.

Stating the Basic Facts:

How did this person die? If their death was part of a senseless crime or an unfortunate accident, make the cause of death the centerpiece of your obit!

In this case, McCreagle was either a crazy, a dolt, a klutz or yet another victim of the Force-Things-Down-Your-Throat quilting club/gang. Explain how those nasty little pricks got into her mouth and how they tore up her flesh or something. Use sensationalistic language and exaggeration if unnecessary.

Contact morticians and forensic examiners for some graphic graphics.

If you choose to include the age they were when they died, where they were from and all that good stuff, be aware that these details will only bog down your writing. Your end result will be so boring that your readers will want to join Rosie wherever she is.

Selecting the Portrait:

No one wants to see what your subject looked like just before they passed, especially if they were old and wrinkly. That’s what those mortifying open-caskets are for.

Okay, elderly people are great when they’re not yelling at you to get off their porch or to stop running over their cats with your car and all, but let’s face it – what a lot of people really want to know when they crack open that newsprint is whether or not your subject was ever sexually attractive.

Take my word for it, many will be tickled to find out that they would’ve tapped Rosemary May if she was just 67 years younger, 77 if they’re pedophiles. So push McCreagle’s nephew for those sassy shots of her in her 1940s “bikinis.”

If your subject is someone well-known, go with whatever comes up first when you Google them. If it happens to be some sort of incredibly scandalous picture, enlarge the photo and just write a shorter obit.

Telling Their Life Story:

No one cares how many lives Rosemary touched or how many years she served the community. They want you to dish the dirt.

Did she climb on top of monkey bars and pry other kids’ fingers off while they screamed? Was she really all that good a nurse? Did she steal cotton balls from the hospital supply closet like everyone else? Did she ever ‘off’ anyone?

If your subject was a decent person who led a good life, omit their bio entirely and focus on how gruesome their death was.

Listing the Survivors:

This part is very informative and helpful because it allows debt collectors to chase after whoever is left behind for whatever Rosie owed anybody.

In this case, list the nephew’s name, telephone number, address and credit card numbers. Include a Xeroxed copy of his Social Security card and don’t forget the beagle, either!

Loved ones will probably want you to include some information about their relationship with the deceased and how much they adored them. Do not allow such trivial details into your work.

Directing Readers to the Funeral:

If there’s a wake, memorial, funeral or some sort of awkward, morbid party to observe the deceased’s passing, tell people when and where it is. Make sure to create some sort of account for the event on a website that sells tickets and sneak your site’s URL into the obit. Hey, we’ve all got bills to pay.

Keeping Priorities Straight:

The most important thing to remember is that above all this is your piece. You are doing the public a service by letting them know what an amazing writer you are. Don’t let them get lost in the hum-drum details of ol’ Macky’s life. At the end of the day, it’s all about Y-O-U.

Your end result should look something like this:

Rosemary May McCreagle bit the dust last week after the Force-Things-Down-Your-Throat quilting club locked her in a portable bathroom and refused to let her out until she swallowed about 154,563,531 needles.

The sewing implements from hell tore viciously through the lining of McCreagle’s digestive tract, allowing her stomach acid to annihilate the rest of her organs.

McCreagle’s demise, although deeply tragic, was incredibly appropriate considering the way this formerly pin-up worthy aunt of one found ways to ruin the lives of those around her.

In kindergarten, McCreagle was notorious for throwing gargantuan, jagged, razor-sharp rocks the size of meteorites at other children. McCreagle cheated her way through school and even blackmailed a Home Economics teacher by threatening to release one of the 160 XXXX (that’s right, quadruple X) tapes she tricked him/her into making with her.

The picture of immorality, McCreagle was also known to rip tags off mattresses and leave toilet seats up.

McCreagle is survived by her nephew Macky Mac Macintosh-McCreagle who can be reached at 555-555-5555 and lives on 66 Drury Lune. Anyone interested in impersonating Macintosh-McCreagle may do so by using Social Security number 123-45-6789.

She also left behind a beagle named Llama, to whom she has left all her earthly possessions. Anyone interested in her out-of-date wardrobe, leftover adult diapers and antique furniture can contact Llama at Macintosh-McCreagle’s address or view his account on eBay.

All three people who pretended to care about McCreagle can come to her wake and funeral, but they probably won’t. Those who hated her, however, are welcome to eat tea sandwiches on her nephew’s dime, sneer at her remains or spit on her grave at St. Anthony’s Church this Friday.

If you enjoyed reading this obituary, go to San Diego Melmac-Johnson’s website to get more hot-off-the-death goodness. At the site, you can also bid on original drafts of this obit, autographed by none other than Melmac-Johnson’s secretary with a rubber stamp of Melmac-Johnson’s signature.

This has been a Melmac-Johnson obituary by the excellent, impeccable, indescribably delicious Melmac-Johnson.



About Summer Dawn Hortillosa

Summer Dawn Hortillosa is a journalist specializing in arts and entertainment. Among other things, she is also an award-winning playwright, director, singer-songwriter and actress. Her work has been seen in The Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal and other publications.
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4 Responses to Writing about Dead People: Penning obits that’ll knock the survivors dead!

  1. Andres D. Hortillosa says:

    It is funny.

  2. I love this… and wish I could use it for real.

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