I’m always looking for ways to expand my writing income through teaching. Even during Covid-19, it has been possible to teach classes virtually. One very successful class has a deep connection with all of the suffering and death during this past year: WRITE YOUR OWN OBITUARY – So No One Else Does!
The class meets twice, two weeks apart, for two hours. Because much of my income comes from teaching in retirement communities, I knew this topic, as a writing class, could be a big draw. We share, we laugh, and we cry.
The class time is 4 hours. I limit the class to 12 and charge $45. That means each class nets me $540. It is popular, and fills quickly.
The first session includes learning what should (and should not) be included in an obituary so no one can steal your identity after you die. Families of two and a-half million people deal with this problem annually in the U.S. Only list the birth year (not month or day), and never include a home address or the mother’s maiden name. If possible, instruct the executor to first notify Social Security, and then cancel all credit cards, notify credit reporting agencies, and close all bank accounts before the obituary is published.
The second session occurs two weeks later to offer attendees time at home to ponder, talk with loved ones, and write their first draft. When we meet the second time, they bring their obituary drafts to share. This session is very personal and often quite emotional, but very gratifying. We bond through sharing intimate stories and humorous events from our lives. After observing others’ reactions during class, some choose to include these humorous anecdotes in their completed obit so they can “have the last laugh.”
For many people, writing their own obituary can be a nice way to sum up their lives, and avoid mistakes that sometimes occur when obituaries are hurriedly written at the time of death. The process should be all about answering: “What do I want people to remember about me?” Concentrate on anecdotes and recollections. Having this information written helps make a very difficult time easier for loved ones. Plus, this is your best chance of having your wishes honored.
No one wants their life to be recorded as simply a calendar of events. Funeral homes provide forms for basic information but there’s often a hefty fee charged for them to write the obituary. These are also often very impersonal, disappointing loved ones who have so many fond memories. Completing an obituary in advance makes it possible to write about oneself in the third-person narrative (she/he), making the task a bit easier. Finally, I encourage participants to list three words that would sum up their life, and, from those words, write a conclusion.
How does this work benefit me as the writing instructor?
1. I get paid for teaching the class.
2. I offer to edit each “completed” obit for a $20 fee after the class ends.
3. Sometimes, I’m asked to help write Legacy Letters, revealing personal information to be passed on only to close family members or friends, for another $40-50 fee.
This is a win-win experience. I’ve helped folks through an often difficult task and they are relieved, knowing this burden has been lifted from their survivors. And, I’ve been fairly reimbursed for my efforts.
Laura Lee Perkins is a writer, educator and flutist. Author of 11 books and 150+ published articles, she was awarded 5 Artist-in-Residencies, produced 5 CD recordings and collaborated on three audio books. Perkins received 13 grants and placed 3rd in the 80th International Writers’ Digest Awards (Inspirational Category) and the 2017 Creative Writing Institute’s Short Story Contest. Laura Lee Perkins writes from the inspiration of the beautiful Maine coast from May-October and from the stillness of the Arizona desert November-April. Her public lectures and classes draw 5,000 attendees each year in Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Arizona.
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Thanks for the article on writing obits!! I think I would like to try this!
Such a great, creative idea. Your information about cancelling credit cards, bank accounts, etc., and contacting the SS Office before publishing the obituary is something many of us would not have thought about, but it makes perfect sense. Thank you. Best wishes.