The Obituary as a Cautionary Tale

In the Internet age, obituaries are easy to share with hundreds or thousands of people. And as more people discover the possibility for a global audience, some are beginning to use the obituary page to share cautionary tales. When 22-year-old Clay William Shephard died May 17, 2015, his parents chose to share the story of his drug addiction with the world. Handsome and talented, Clay seemed to have it all; he was known for his broad smile and generous nature. (He spent his time, for instance, volunteering with his father at Carolina Tiger Rescue.) But drugs held a power over him that he couldn't shake. He was able to hide the worst of his addiction from his parents, preventing them from helping him before it was too late.

In the obituary they wrote, Shephard's parents offered advice to parents and children alike in an attempt to stop such a tragedy from happening to anyone else: "To all children, this note is a simple reminder that there are people who love you, with everything they have and no matter what you do – don't be too afraid/ashamed/scared, too anything, to ask for help. To all parents, pay attention to your children and the world that revolves around them – even when the surface is calm, the water may be turbulent just beneath."

It's one of a growing number of obituaries that spell out the tragic decisions made by loved ones in hopes that they can stop others before it's too late.

Just weeks earlier, 24-year-old Molly Parks' loved ones wrote a similarly cautionary obituary when she died of a heroin overdose. "Along Molly's journey through life, she made a lot of bad decisions including experimenting with drugs. She fought her addiction to heroin for at least five years and had experienced a near fatal overdose before. Molly's family truly loved her and tried to be as supportive as possible as she struggled with the heroin epidemic that has been so destructive to individuals and families in her age bracket."

We can honor the lives of these young people by remembering their stories and sharing them with others – as these parents did when they shared Clay's story with their teenagers at the dinner table. Open and candid discussions may be able to stop these tragedies from happening to other young people. It's the best tribute to Clay's and Molly's lives we can think of.