Death of the free obituary

If the cost of living has you concerned, you might wish to add to your bag of worries a new major economic impact on the cost of dying. It’s the paid obituary, which has taken the newspaper industry by storm. Instead of a homey recitation of your presence on earth by a word-conscious reporter, you are now faced with not only having some family member dig up your past and write about it, but also having to pay for, by the word or inch, what they print in the newspaper.

To quote one newspaper, “Paid obituaries allow the families to control the wording.”

The alternative to the paid death announcement is what the newspapers call a “death notice.” The notice amounts to nothing more than what might appear on your tombstone and might better be called by the press “Tombstone Tidings.”

What is a bereaved, penny-conscious survivor to do? Here are a couple of creative and cost-cutting suggestions:

Don’t die a natural death. Be killed in bank robbery or mowed down by an errant meteor. In this way, you’ll appear on the front page of the paper, picture and all. Without its costing you a dime, the whole world will know you’ve gone to your maker.

As death appears imminent, change your name to that of a historical figure, such as Napoleon or Mother Teresa or some notable currently in the news. Chances are the paper will not check out your ruse, thinking you are the real thing, and give you free, full front-page coverage.

If you can’t afford the cost of a complete obituary of a love one all at one time, workout a deal with the paper where you run the obituary in installments, paying for them as they appear over a couple of weeks or months.

If you have a large family or relatives with the same last name, urge the newspaper to offer a “cheaper by the dozen” rate to you. Perhaps, as happens in many pizza parlors, you can buy four (obits, not pizzas) and get the fifth one free.

Consider the classifieds: “Paddy Murphy died last week. Golf clubs and cart for sale.” Or: Lost. Gray-haired man, Chico H.S. grad, Ex-GI, truck driver, fly-fisher. Mary Jones’ husband Bill until his death 7/12/02.”

Of course, composing an obituary is no easy literary task, and you especially want to put the departed in the best light possible. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, more power to you, but remember there’s a price tag on every word you write.

As a taxpayer, you might wish to turn to one of our public agencies, such as Butte College, where with enough community interest, they would in all likelihood set up a writing class, “Creative Writing 1: Obits,” in which students as a class exercise would help in this transitional stage of life on earth by writing the obituary for you.

You could provide the students with the raw materials for the obituary, or you could simply give them the name, gender and age of the deceased and let them take it from there. Within a few days, you could collect the students’ work and then choose to print the obituary that best captures the story of the person in mind.

As a last resort, you could just buy the newspaper itself. It might be cheaper in the long run.