Friday, September 05, 2014

What Will Your Obituary Photo Look Like?

Do you ever wonder what your obituary photo will look like? (See Pickles comic #1, Pickles comic #2.) Maybe, like my dad, you simply don't care. His philosophy was that posthumous cultural practices are for the benefit of the living, so he refused to give much thought to things like his obituary and funeral.

I have noticed that obituary photos tend to come in several varieties that might be represented by a grid that looks something like this:

A Few Years Old
Very Old
Mix of New/Old
High Quality

Average Quality

Low Quality

Obituary photos tend to fit into one of the boxes in this grid. When it comes to quality, some are awful (grainy or just a horrible shot) at one end of the scale and some are professional and polished at the other end. When it comes to age, some are recent while others come from a high school graduation that occurred 65 years earlier.

Occasionally I wonder why some survivors publish such lousy pictures of their deceased loved ones. It could be that the loved one was not very loved. Or maybe they were like a friend's uncle who increasingly detested photos of himself as he became older and grouchier; so much so that the most recent photo his family could find after he passed was about two decades old. Even then it was a lousy photo where someone had captured the man unawares. I guess the fellow brought his dreadful obituary photo on himself.

I suppose that more often people just get out of the habit of having professional photos taken as they age. They tend to get family photos while the kids are at home. And they can't escape being in their kids' wedding photos. Many get photos with the clan when the grandkids are young. But later in life they just don't do it anymore. This seems to be especially true during widowhood. This leaves survivors with a smaller selection of photos to pick from.

Another situation that occurs is when family members have been so focused on caring for a loved one in failing health that any thought of an obituary photo comes only after the decease. Sometimes the belongings of the decedent are stored in such a way (often due to end of life moves) that no one can find any of their good photos.

Maybe the problem will be completely reversed when members of today's selfie generation reach their demise. Survivors will have way too many photos to choose from. Of course, despite technological advances, I have seen precious few selfies that would be of the nature and quality that most folks would want to display in an obituary. So the selection might be abundant but dubious. I also wonder how well enthusiasm for taking selfies will be sustained as today's youth advance into their elder years.

It is not uncommon to see photos posted from an era that nobody living can remember. Why do people do that? Many friends and family that look at the picture have no idea who it is.

When Dad passed away, Mom decided that she wanted a picture that reminded her of when they first met along with a more recent photo. That kind of thing is done regularly as well. We had a professional photo that had been taken not long before Dad got sick. The young adult photo, however, was a problem because Mom wanted the one from Dad's passport when he emigrated from Germany to the US. The photo had some flaws (a rivet and a stamp). My brother scanned the photo and sent it to a guy he knew that was a Photoshop guru. It came back a few hours later looking pristine.

None of us wants to think much about our eventual demise. But the fact remains that the Grim Reaper will get each of us eventually. You can make it a lot easier for your survivors by getting decent photos taken of yourself on at least a somewhat regular basis. Share those photos with anyone that you think might be part of deciding what to do about your obituary. You might also want to share anything you want (or don't want) in your obituary to avoid ending up with questionable text.

Or just let it roll. You never know what kind of entertaining material your survivors might come up with.

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