Dear loved ones:
Enclosed is a photograph of myself that I would like you to use in the event of my death. And I do mean “death” and not “passing” or any other euphemism. If anyone refers to my “passing,” I want you to punch them hard in the stomach, even if it’s at the funeral home. Especially if it’s at the funeral home.
This photo is to be used for any death notices you choose to publish. In the event that my death is deemed newsworthy due to either fame or violence, whether this violence is inflicted upon me or by me, this photograph may also be issued to reporters camped out on my survivors’ doorsteps.
The photo’s resolution makes it suitable for enlarging should the need arise to place my likeness in front of a closed casket, which may be required due to said newsworthy violence or in the event that they fail to recover my body from the wreckage.
It’s not that I don’t trust you. I am taking this measure because I know you will have a lot on your minds, what with arranging my funeral, contacting friends and relatives, finding a big enough church, managing the waiting list and embarking on the elaborate six-week grieving process as outlined in my earlier letter. And from what I’ve seen from other death notices over the years, little thought goes into selecting the obit photo. The funeral director will ask you, “Now, I know this is a very difficult time and, believe me, we feel your pain — heaven knows we all loved Ross profoundly — but if it’s not too much trouble, do you think you might possibly try to find a photograph of the departed when you have a minute and can see through the stream of tears?” And then you’ll hand over the first photo you find. This worries me; I know those drag pics from Halloween 1997 are still floating around.
The enclosed photograph shows me smiling gently, my eyes twinkling with mischief in that winning way of mine, my hair neatly combed. You will note I am not chewing food. I am not wearing a ball cap. I am not sporting that regrettable goatee I grew one summer. I am not scowling. I am not in the midst of turning my head, unaware that someone is taking my picture. There is no red-eye. The photograph is in focus. The background is natural and unobtrusive. You can’t see open kitchen cupboards behind me. There is not half of someone else’s head in the frame. I am not drunk.
You will receive an updated photograph at least once per decade. Please use the most recent photograph. My mourners do not need to be reminded of my past choices in eyewear or be given the impression that I was in denial about my age. Using an obit photograph more than 10 years old is acceptable only if the deceased performed military service and is depicted in uniform. I have not served in the military and, no, my high school band uniform does not count.
In addition to death-related purposes, please feel free to use this photograph for any surprise announcements such as “Congratulations on Your Pulitzer” or “Kidnapped!”
Thank you in advance for your cooperation. I know this may seem like a small detail in the context of the colossal emptiness my death will cause all those around me. But a little planning will save us all — especially me, posthumously — some real embarrassment.