Blog, Journalism, Teaching, Writing

Writing From the Grave

graveDeath is so taboo. People fear it, avoid discussing it, and shudder at the thought of it. In reality, though, death opens up someone’s life story.

 When a person dies, his or her life’s story unfolds and then becomes newsworthy. To counteract feelings of despair, family, friends, and co-workers reflect on the deceased, tell stories of the past, and ingrain this person’s image and likeness with memories.

 Obituaries are life stories – personality profiles rich with reflections. Students in my Journalism I class know this firsthand. Each semester, I ask my students to write their own obituary. The assignment is as follows:

 For this assignment, let’s imagine that your time on Earth has ended in a natural manner (any other type of death may change the scope of a story to an accident report/crime story, etc.). Your job as a reporter is to investigate your life and report on it objectively for a feature obituary. Interview friends and family, research awards you have received, accomplishments, hobbies, etc.  Even at such a young age, you have already impacted lives of others, accomplished goals, and developed a persona or character. Portray your life to those who do not know you. In a sense, make yourself newsworthy.

 As expected, at the onset of the assignment, my students HATE this task. “This is terribly morbid,” one student said. Another told me that she cried even thinking about it. I even received a call one semester from an angry parent, shocked that I would ask her to comment on her child’s death.

 What they fail to see in the beginning (yet later realize) is that an obituary is sort of the “final word” on a person.  It summarizes the person’s experiences and accomplishments and tells the reader what’s worth remembering about the person. An obituary is not a morbid document, rather a celebration of the deceased’s life.

 Maybe instead of fearing death, we should all attempt to write our own obituary to reflect on our experiences and accomplishments thus far. And then, set out to make our life stories newsworthy.


– Shannon Philpott
Blog Entry: July 28, 2009

© Shannon Philpott, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Shannon Philpott and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



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