Monday, September 19, 2011

Writing An Obituary

Two years ago yesterday, September 18, 2009, my father took his last breath. He had spent 7 days in palliative care at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wisconsin. The first night he was there I stayed with him, at his side. His move to palliative care meant finality. It meant that we'd have to write an obituary. Curled up under a blanket in a chair at his bedside I typed on my notebook computer. It was the hardest thing I've every written. If you are faced with this emotional task, keep the following in mind:
  • include information on life as well as death;
  • provide dates and locations, but be mindful of identity theft (sadly, criminals use this type of information);
  • mention a charity in-lieu of flowers if you are inclined; and
  • be creative and think outside the box.
For more tips on writing an obituary, there are several web sites. If you need a sample, here is the text I wrote for my dad:

Carl E. Gustafson

Born November 20, 1941

Died September 18, 2009

Carl E. Gustafson ended his earthly journey on September 18, 2009. His final days were spent in the palliative care unit at University Hospital and Clinics, where daily he was surrounded by family and friends. His family would like to extend their gratitude to the medical staff at UWHC, especially to the doctors and nurses in the palliative care unit, and to Doctor Adnan Said, who worked with him the past 5 years.

Born at Swedish American Hospital in Rockford, Illinois, his family moved to Wisconsin when he was ten years old and settled on the west side of Madison. Carl attended Middleton High School, and then completed the steamfitter program at Madison Area Technical College. He worked as steamfitter for several years and was a member of the Steamfitters Local Union No. 601. Following a back injury he changed career paths, turning his love of cars into a business. He spent the next 30 years as the owner of a used car lot and auto body repair business; first in Middleton, and most recently in Fitchburg. Many may remember his business card, which proclaimed “buy a car from Gus, and get no fuss”.

In 1970 he married the love of his life, and best friend, Sharon (Lamb) Gustafson. Over the course of their marriage they shared many joint ventures: doubling the size of their first home with their own hands, building a family cabin in Westfield, Wisconsin, and for many years working side by side at the family business.

Over his 67 years Carl made countless friends and was gifted with a memory for faces and names. His family often joked that there was no where they could go without him running into someone he knew. Even on a family trip to Disney World, Carl bumped into friends while waiting in line.

He is survived by: his loving wife, Sharon (Lamb) Gustafson; his son Robert (Rhonda) Gustafson of The Village of Dane, and their three sons David (Ashley), Michael, and Eric; his daughter, Melinda (Charles) Gustafson Gervasi, of Madison, and their son Ian; his twin sisters, Patricia (Rodger) Edgren of Marshall, and Judith (Michael) Jennings of Mt. Horeb; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded into death by his father, Carl A. Gustafson and his mother Agnes (Fitzgerald) Gustafson.

Even though his earthly time has come to an end, his spirit and image will live on in the lives of his wife, son, daughter, and grandsons. A visitation will be held on Thursday, October 1st, from 10:30am – 12:30pm at the Brooklyn United Methodist Church (201 Church St., Brooklyn, WI) and will be followed by a memorial service and private burial.

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