For most people, their obituary will be the last thing to ever be written about them. More often than not, it’s a form obituary where the family is asked to fill in the blanks. But for those who don’t find it morbid to plan ahead, Sharon Roseme is offering people the chance to decide how they will be remembered by the masses. In January, Roseme began writing obituaries for the living as part of her business, Your Personal Scribe. In addition to obituaries, Roseme also writes wedding toasts, apology letters and personals advertisements. Her Web site, www.yourpersonalscribe.com, is still under construction, but the basics can be found there.
How did your idea for early obituaries come about?
Well, I’d been writing little things for my family and friends for a while. I’d do a wedding toast for someone. Or I’d have a friend ask me to help them write an ad for their vacation home. But the obituary thing really started when I wrote one for my mom. You know, she’s 76, and asked me to do it for her. And my mom took the obituary to her book club to show to everyone, and they all got really excited about it. They all wanted one, and I thought, “Hey, I could sell this.”
What is it about obituaries that intrigues you?
I was a lawyer for 30 years, so my family and friends often turned to me for advice when they needed to handle someone’s estate. They’d say to me, “You know how to deal with lawyers. Can you help me out?” And what I found was the family often didn’t know where the deceased had gone to school, what their hobbies were, what their first job was—none of that stuff. So what you get when you read most obituaries is a generic “He was loved by his friends and family,” but you don’t get any of those details. There’s no picture of who this person was. If you knew more about them you could make it a lot more interesting. Collecting the facts in advance takes a lot of the burden off the family, as well, especially when they’re grieving and trying to sort out the estate at the same time.
Do people ever react badly when you offer to do an early obituary for them?
So far it’s been purely word of mouth. I haven’t done much advertising. There are some people who find it a bit macabre and just want nothing to do with it. They feel like it’s sort of anticipating their own death. But most people who hear about it get really excited about it.
And do you ever think it’s a bit macabre?
Actually, it’s really fun to do. When they start thinking about what they’re proudest of or their five peak moments in life, people really enjoy it. The funny thing, though, is that after they read it, they’re really embarrassed because it’s all about them. When they see all of these wonderful things written about them they say to me, “Well, I don’t want to boast or anything.” It’s just really fun getting to know them and learning about their lives.
What age do you think is a good age for someone to decide to do this?
I don’t know. The youngest person I’ve done it for was 49. He had just retired from a fairly long and interesting career at a really big corporation. He wasn’t sick or anything like that, but he wanted to sort of capture that section of his life and how he felt about it at the time. So it just depends on the person really.
What’s the process?
Well, I have a questionnaire I have them fill out, which asks them to name the top-five peak moments in their life, what they’re most proud of, what stories people tell about them, what do they want to be remembered for, as well as just the basic—parents, job, children, that sort of thing. They could really stop with the questionnaire and stick that in the safety-deposit box so their family would have the facts. But if they want, I interview some of the people around them now to get a better picture. Then I write it for them in story form.
Do you keep the obituary on file and submit it for them, or do you give it to them to store and have the family submit it when the time comes?
Oh, I give them the obituary and a disk with the obituary on it. That way they can update it with the appropriate information, like date of death, and add any other information that may have changed since the original obituary was written. And I’ve told them they can come back to me if something changes in the meantime. You know, it’s just like making changes to your will. You can just add on to it at any time. It’s a pretty organic sort of process.