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Six Lessons from the Dead

This nice photo slide show comes from our friend, the fine obit writer at the Boston Globe, Bryan Marquard -- Six Life Lessons from the Dead. Some are expected, others less so, but all worth considering.

Then come back and tell us what lessons have you learned from obits?

By Patricia Sullivan  |  July 9, 2009; 12:24 PM ET
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Adam Bernstein writes:

After many years on this beat, I am always saddened by how little people know about their loved ones.

Basic information is often hard to come by: What a parent did for a living beyond "worked for the government," or why someone chose a particular career, or what impact that person, even if not well-known, may have had in the profession.

In short, communicate more with your family, because one day they will be communicating with us.

Posted by: wapshot2003 | July 9, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

I've been writing obits for almost six years, and here's the main lesson I've learned: Stay in touch with your family, no matter how hard it may be. Nothing's sadder than hearing someone say "I don't know where my brother/aunt/father lives. We haven't heard from him in years."

Posted by: Patricia Sullivan | July 9, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I've been writing obituaries for almost a year and most people seem to think my job is sad. But I disagree. Writing obits can be a celebration of someone's life, to highlight accomplishments and the things that made someone unique. If you ask the right questions, you can find out very interesting stuff about people. Some of my all-time favorites I wrote include one about Larry Eanet, a dermatologist by day and a D.C. jazz musician by night. Or Fanchon O'Donoghue, a Potomac woman who spent every Christmas season baking thousands of cookies for friends and family. Unfortunately most of the time we don't know about these people until they die.

Posted by: LaurenWiseman | July 9, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

as one who frequently uses the services of both the Post obits and the classified death notices, I will say that I have learned that you guys at The Post overall do a much better job than many dailies. i will also say that it is a shame that the Classified Death Notice department now REQUIRES that a family spend an additional $17 for a "memorial plaque", which they may or may not want....Don't want it?...too bad- you cannot run a death notice without one!!!! Nice customer relations by the Post.

Posted by: slackfh | July 9, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for drawing my attention to the Globe piece, and for filling it out with the lessons the Post-Mortem team has learned. All proved interesting and eloquent. For more lessons learned from the dead, and those who survive them, I recommend the work of the poet / essayist / funeral home director Thomas Lynch.

As for any lesson I've drawn from obits, it's hard to say, but one might be this: quirks, eccentricities and foibles all give people something specific to remember you by.

Posted by: downs1 | July 10, 2009 12:52 AM | Report abuse

Lesson #1, "Be Nice," is illustrated with a well-dressed woman holding out a well-wrapped gift box. That's off base. The most meaningful sort of niceness doesn't involve fancy presents; it's a function of everyday courtesy, good humor, tolerance of others' foibles, and respect for everyone regardless of status, situation or age. That kind of cheerful, humane relationship with one's world has much greater benefits and returns than a gift box.

Posted by: cjohnson1 | July 10, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I'm a big obituary reader and the lesson I've taken away is to spend time getting to know the people around you. Nothing worse than reading an obituary and thinking, "I never knew that! Wish we had talked about it." People live such interesting lives!

Posted by: atleemom | July 10, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

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