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Life as Performance Art

We were in Canada when the news came that Queen Elizabeth II had died. A friend and fellow Anglophile texted so I would know about it.
A few hours later when Madame Dewey and I got back to our room and turned on the television, that was the entirety of the news. Once the official announcement was made, there were videos from Balmoral Castle where she passed away and of crowds gathering outside Buckingham Palace. 
Word leaked out that for the past several months since Prince Philip died, newscasters had kept black suits in their changing rooms just in case. The moment they learned what happened, they quickly changed into something more suitable.
Meanwhile, a small army of interns and off-screen employees were gathering up every scrap of information to be found. All their work had to be cleared by fact checkers and proofreaders before going in front of newscasters.  
Old news films and clips were broadcast and every possible detail of her life was told. One presenter even read names of death dates of all her corgis from her long reign.
The reason the media could present so much information so quickly is their morgues — no, not basement rooms where medical examiners have big coolers to keep bodies of the deceased prior to their removal to a funeral home.
Today, many newspapers have their own morgues where they collect and store information about people. When the time comes, a staff writer who specializes in this sort of work takes the information and writes the obituary.
Newspapers rely on national morgues for A Listers such as Queen Elizabeth, presidents, governors, top-level athletes and entertainers. Local newspapers have morgues for better-known people and civic leaders in their areas. That still leaves the vast of the majority of us, which means the obituary column rather than on front page above the fold.
In the past, newspapers would get a daily update on the recently deceased. It might come from the hospital, a church or sometimes the family would call. HPPA privacy laws changed much of that and hospitals cannot provide any information.  
Back in the day when that happened, the newest reporter would be sent to knock on the door and get information about the deceased and family, work, interests, where the service was to be held, then hurry back to the office and write an article for the obituary page.   
The late English novelist, R.F. Delderfield wrote about how he started his writing career in the obits department of a London paper in the years before World War I. It was the finest possible training to learn how to tell a story. 
He learned about people, good and bad parts of their lives and sometimes\ chapters they preferred to keep quiet. It was the background for his books such as “The Avenue,” “The Avenue Goes to War,” “To Serve Them All My Days” and others.
Elsewhere, the family minister might be called upon to write the obit and hand deliver it to the paper. Sometimes results were unintentionally comic, such as when the preacher at a distant relative’s church wrote, “Cistern Beulah Brewer went to her eternal reward Monday night.” 
Cistern? Was that really her first name or did he mean Sister? How did this get past the editor of the paper? Was she really a sibling or did the cleric mean “sister” as an honorific because she died a member in good standing?
I’d read about Delderfield’s newspaper work, and as a newly-minted clergyman I started keeping my own morgue on church members. Under each name was information that might be of assistance should they pass away and I was called on to do the service. Many clerics do the same.
As long as we are on the subject, you might want to think about writing your own obit for that “if the time ever comes.” Trust me, it will.
Here’s the advantage if you write your own story — you get the last word, which might be a very good thing for some of us. A friend pointed out that for those who don’t write their own obit, it gets left to people who might not know us or know us too well. 
There is something else to consider if you write your own obit. It comes from one of the final scenes in the old western “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”: “When the story is better than the truth, print the story.”

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