Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.
Have you ever noticed that when a celebrity, a politician, or a well-known person dies, moments later everything important about him is already in the news? Soon thereafter, the person's obituary is also publicized. How can that happen so quickly?
The answer is that most of the obituary had already been done in advance. Dates and last-minute details would be the only things that need to be inserted after the actual death. For instance, there are major rules and regulations to be followed when Queen Elizabeth dies. Almost every detail except the date of her death has been in place for years.
I taught a Faith and Human Development course at my Bible College. A major requirement to pass the course was for every student to prepare three documents:
- their obituary
- their eulogy
- their epitaph
None of the students rejected the assignment. They thought it was a good idea for four reasons.
- Writing one's own obituary, eulogy, and epitaph helps the individual get in touch with death that we all must face. The person will become comfortable thinking about death and embracing it as a reality.
- The assignment helped the individuals embrace the idea of a transition from one life to another.
- Writing the obituary and other end-of-life documents would contain the exact information that the deceased person wanted to be said.
- Preparing one's own documents spares the grieving family from having that task to deal with.
An obituary is a notice of the death of a person that is usually printed in the newspaper between the date of the death and the date of the funeral. The obituary is also printed in the Homegoing Service Bulletin that is given out at the funeral.
The obituary typically includes a brief biography of the deceased person. There is background information about the person's upbringing, schools attended, employment record, community service, and church affiliations. Close relatives are also listed in the obituary. It is almost like a person's resume except the person won't be applying for a job. There is no more work on earth for the person to do.
A eulogy is a speech that is said at the Homegoing Service about the deceased. Some preachers use that time to preach a sermonette for the grieving family, relatives, and friends who are in attendance.
The person might not write his own eulogy on paper, but the preacher who delivers a eulogy should know enough about the deceased to let the life lived to be a framework for the eulogy.
I once read that some missionaries attend their own funeral before leaving the country just in case they die in a foreign land. Some of them do die while they are far from home. Unlike dead people, they get to hear their eulogy and remarks about them before they die.
An epitaph is a short phrase or statement written in memory of a deceased person on a tombstone. The epitaph is an inscription that people will see for many years when they visit the cemetery. A common inscription is "Rest in Peace" or "RIP."
Besides the short phrase, an epitaph has the date of birth and the date of death inscribed. Usually, it ends with words from a close relative describing the deceased person, such as "A loving wife and mother" or "A wonderful husband and father."
Examples of Epitaphs Written by the Deceased Before Their Death
Don't think it is far-fetched for people to write their own epitaph before their death. Here are a few examples.
- Benjamin Franklin wrote his own epitaph when he was 22 years old. He didn't die until 62 years later when he was 84.
- William Shakespeare left a curse on his tombstone for anyone who had a desire to move his bones.
- Robert Frost gave a reason for his death on his tombstone: "I had a lover’s quarrel with the world."
- Emily Dickinson requested just two words to be her epitaph: "Called Back."
Do you remember what I shared at the beginning of this article about the assignments I gave my students? All the students completed their assignments. One student died before he graduated. It spared his family from having to compile the information because he had already written his own obituary. Since I was his Bible teacher, his family asked me to read his obituary at his funeral exactly as he had written it.
Since the student died before graduation, I presented a posthumous certification of completion to the student's widow.