MY TURN: 'Pre-obit' earns its rightful place in race to be first


As a newspaper editor for nearly four decades, I have received my share of strange requests over the years, some of which have bordered on the libelous, the criminal, and the obscene.

Almost all have come from favor-seeking politicians or down-on-their-luck acquaintances, many of whom have wrongly believed that some well-crafted words or stories in their honor can better shape the news of the day.

In recent years, I have been asked repeatedly to perform a particularly morbid task – write an “obituary” for someone who has yet to get a glimpse of the hereafter.

In this instance, the requests have come from friends and longtime readers who would like a preview of coming attractions, more specifically an opportunity to read a glowing tribute – beforehand – for a life they believe has been especially well-lived.

For a journalist committed to the cause of accuracy, the task of writing a “pre-obit” is a potentially sticky proposition, almost certain to become a self-fulfilling prophecy for each party concerned. Such is why I have shied away from these types of requests, preferring instead to stick to the normal sequence of personal postmortems.

Several years ago, a distant relative died, just short of her 90th birthday. By all accounts, she led a noteworthy life, enjoying professional and personal success while possessing a “quick wit, an easy smile, and an infectious laugh,” according to her obit.

She was lauded as a “wonderful wife, a great mom, a mentor to many, a fiercely loyal friend, an accomplished cook, a voracious reader, a gracious hostess, and a force to be reckoned with.”

She, who held jobs as a court reporter and district court administrator before retiring, attributed “her longevity to ‘just good clean living and a scotch every day at 4 o’clock.’”

Now that is the kind of obit certain to charm and enrich, made even more memorable by an accompanying time-honored poem that helped signify her rightful place on earth. The poem, penned by Mrs. Lyman Hancock, is titled, “When I’m Gone” and should be required reading for those paying their last respects:

When I come to the end of my journey
And I travel my last weary mile,
Just forget if you can, that I ever frowned
And remember only the smile.
Forget unkind words I have spoken;
Remember some good I have done.
Forget that I ever had a heartache
And remember that I’ve had loads of fun.
Forget that I have stumbled and blundered
And sometimes fell by the way.
Remember I have fought some hard battles
And won, ere the close of the day.
Then forget to grieve for my going,
I would not have you sad for a day,
But in summer just gather the flowers
And remember the place where I lay.
And come in the evening
When the sun paints the sky in the west,
Stand for a few moments beside me
And remember only my best.