Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Obituary Photos

There seems to be a raging discussion in the Dear Abby column today as to the use of obituary photos in newspapers and whether a photo should be "current" or show the deceased in the prime of their life.

For years, I was of the belief that the photo should be current but now that I've been exposed to more and more family photographs and reading blogs such as Shades Of the Departed, I am in agreement with most people: photos from the deceased's "prime of life" time are much better.

When newspapers first started running photos in obituaries (and it is a money-maker since it increases the cost of the announcement), I thought it was misleading to see a photo of an 84 year old woman that looked as if she were 34. Thinking that Cher had nothing on this woman, I would usually have to reread the obituary to make sure the age at time of death wasn't 48 instead of 84.

And putting aside valid reasons such as there not being any current photos of the deceased available, as I grow older I can see the wisdom of using a photo from the earlier years of the departed. In my mind, I often see myself as 25 or 30 and not my current mid-40s age. And as the aging process progresses, I'm sure I will keep this perspective.

An obituary for many is not just an announcement of one's passing. It is a short summary of one's life - achievements, successes, losses, battles - and should sum up the "essence" of that person.

Look at the poll in the upper right about this topic and cast your vote. And - if you could select one photo that depicted your "essence," which photo would that be?


Elizabeth said...

Thomas - I've been following that DEAR ABBY column, and I'm in complete agreement with you.

When my mother died, she had been so ravaged by pain and sickness that she looked awful. If I had published a photo of her looking like that, she would have come back to haunt me, I'm sure. Instead, I picked a photo that showed her as the beautiful person she was, taken on a day when she looked absolutely stunning. Although a shy person, I'm sure she would have been proud of that photo.

An obituary photo is NOT required to be the "last known photo" of any person, but as you said, the "essence" of them, a photo of which the deceased would be proud to share. The point is not to humiliate them, but to honor them.

I really want to slap some of those DEAR ABBY readers. Hmmph.

Kathryn Doyle said...

Well, I won't vote, Thomas, because I could go either way. When my father died last summer I chose a photograph that was relatively current and that was instantly recognizable as my dad since the obit was run in three states and many distant family and friends had not seen him for many years. The other important feature for me was that he was smiling! That said, I can easily see that another situation might call for a photo from the past. I need to dig up that 'Dear Abby' column and read what I missed!

Jasia said...

When my mom died last year I made a point of including in her obit a photo of her that had her looking the way most people would remember her. She wasn't in the "prime" of life, as in young and robust. She had her crown of white hair and was in her 70s. But she was smiling and it was a studio photo that had complementary lighting. It was a photo she liked of herself. It was taken about 17 years before she died.

I would never have used a recent photo of her because quite honestly she looked pretty bad for the last couple years after she'd developed Alzheimer's. I know that's not how she would have wanted to be remembered.

But I didn't want to publish a young picture of her either. I wanted people to see right off that she'd led a long life, into her senior years. I didn't want anyone to have to read through the obit twice to make sure about the dates of birth and death as you mentioned.

I think my mom would have been flattered to have had any photo appear in the paper beside her name. She grew up in a time when only "important people" had their pictures in their obituaries. My brother's hadn't even heard of such a thing and at first balked at the price of the obituary I wrote. But when all was said and done and the obit was published, they were very pleased. I know mom would have been too. And that's what really matters to me.

footnoteMaven said...

I want a good old fashioned obituary with a photograph of me the way I think of me. In my prime!

No funeral, I want everyone to go out to eat (I'll buy). The guests will be required to say one nice thing about me. As difficult as that may be.

I do, however expect, to make the record books as the oldest living woman ever!


Chery said...


Although I would like to know what a person looked like recently, I think most people would want to be represented when they are at their best, not necessarily only in appearance, but in life experience.

On a related note: I put together a family history book for my relations and included a chapter of biography or autobiography for each person. Whenever possible, I began that chapter with a high school graduation photograph: a time of life when people usually look their best and their eyes are sparkling with life's possibilities.

Best overall solution? Both young and old photos, but way too expensive!