Capturing the Essence of a Life in a Few Paragraphs: The Art of Obituary Writing

Jun 13, 2016

Most obituaries are short biographies, meant to inform others of a loss. Sometimes they express sadness, or celebrate accomplishments. Ideally, they capture the essence of the person they're about.

"Wherever Cynthia was, she was probably the smartest person in the room. She could curse like a sailor-though she almost never did - yet she had exquisite and sophisticated tastes." That’s a line from Jennifer Miller's beautiful, smart, funny remembrance of her mother.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe talks with Miller about what the process of writing her mother's obituary was like and how it has helped her through some of the grieving process.

“It was nice to be able to encapsulate, however minimally, who she was and what she meant to so many people,” says Miller. “Everybody’s special to someone; and I think if you can pay homage to their special qualities, rather than just what schools they went to and where they worked, I think that’s doing our loved ones a service.”

New York Times senior writer Margalit Fox who has written more than a thousand obituaries for the paper, as well as Evan Carroll, author of the blog The Digital Beyond who writes about how digital technology has changed obituaries and how we remember those we have lost, also join the conversation.