By Elisa Shoenberger
No one reads the obituaries except maybe Prospect Management and Research. It’s an interesting world in our field especially since people are always talking about “big data” and “analytics.” Obituaries seem the definition of antiquated, old-fashioned, and dull. It’s not a lot of fun reading through the obituaries day in and day out. My colleagues and I believe that the next billion-dollar idea is for someone to create a reliable obituary reading system.
I digress. Obituaries, I’ll admit, have their place. They are probably one of the more reliable sources for family connections. From my experience with writing and editing an obituary for my family, I learned that the families or a representative of the family have to review the obituary. Mistakes are the result of family error or proofing errors. For me, this makes me feel pretty confident of obituaries as a source for family connections. Finding an obituary for someone in a family has solved so many mysteries of people’s relationships to each other. It is actually disappointing when I cannot find one when researching someone when a question comes up about their family.
Obituaries can help accomplish your organization’s mission. This is the heart of why Prospect Management and Research go over the obituaries every day. We want to acknowledge the passing of alumni, friends and their loved ones. Plus it is unfortunate when an institution keeps mailing to people who have passed away. No need to accidentally salt a wound. Moreover, Loyola has priests on staff that can reach out to the families to provide pastoral care. Some of the priests even preside over funerals. So it’s essential for us to continue in fulfilling our mission.
In addition to aiding in cause of mission, obituaries surprisingly can be a wealth indicator. Obituaries are not cheap; the longer the obituary, the pricier they get. We are talking about a couple hundred dollars if not thousands of dollars. Moreover, if someone is in the New York Times, it is really a big deal. At least a thousand dollars for a short death notice. For many newspapers, the picture is extra too. Curiously, the Chicago Tribune will give you a deal, if you run the obituary for multiple days. Of course, you have to be careful about the way you promote a lead when there has been a death in the family.
While obituaries mark sad and serious occasions, they can definitely reveal quirky and sometimes humorous aspects about the deceased and/or their family. Several obituaries have referred to “granddoggers,” a term to refer to the deceased’s beloved dogs. Sometimes you find interesting hobbies about the deceased from obituaries. One obituary mentions a person’s love of raising chickens in the city nonetheless and acupuncture. Independently, these activities would be mildly unusual but not special. Together, they are unique. Some euphemisms for death are curious, such as suggesting that the deceased had been promoted to the heavenly baker of the sky.
Sometimes you get a window into the family dynamics. For instance, in one obituary, one of the children was referred to as “the favorite son.” And yes, there were multiple children listed. One obituary made mention about how one child and her husband took such loving care of their parents and then proceeded to mention the other children. Another obituary got a little more scandalous than is common. It used the phrase “Her shimmering hips led to” and then named the couple’s children. Another obituary mentioned how the living spouse survived the marriage. That’s one way to put it.
One obituary noted how the deceased and her husband eloped and got married in Las Vegas. It is neat to see that some people have actually done this; it is not just something you see in Hollywood movies. And there was the recent obituary written by the deceased that has gone viral. You have to read it to fully appreciate it.
Obituaries have their place in our big data world. They are great for family relationships. Moreover, they can help your organization fulfill its mission. The costs related to obituaries make them a bit of an unexpected wealth indicator. Finally, there can be some interesting and quirky aspects to obituaries.