Nowadays, in place of obits that celebrate the "common man," we have obits that celebrate the uncommon one. And the extraordinariness is defined, in most cases, by professional success. Take the obit's typical headline -- "[Name], [Noteworthy Profession/Accomplishment], Dies at [Age]." The formula is loaded: We are reading about [Name], the obit's writer assures us, not because [Name] was kind or funny or interesting or a mean maker of noodles-and-meatsauce; we're reading about them because they somehow meant something extraordinary -- in the most literal sense of the word -- to the rest of us. They invented something. They changed something. They did [Noteworthy Profession/Accomplishment], and thereby put a dent in the universe.
And the mark they made is encrypted in their obituary. Thus, the typical layout, which often goes something like this:
A. Age of death
B. Cause of death (unless that cause would be inappropriate to state)
II. Career -- most notable achievements
A. Prizes, awards, etc.
III. Career -- social effects of achievements
B. quotes from colleagues
C. quotes from other experts in the field
D. anecdotes from popular culture
IV. Career -- what led to the major achievements
A. anecdote of previous failure(s) before success achieved
V. Career -- what followed the major achievements
A. details of later work
B. details of retirement
A. He/she is survived by, etc., etc.
"Family," you'll notice, per this traditional formula, literally comes after career. He did this and this and this and this and oh yeah, married some people and fathered some people and is now survived by them, having died at [Age].
In that structure, obits are the opposite of their partners in milestone journalism: wedding announcements. Which similarly enforce social norms -- status, wealth, matrimony-as-institution -- even as they tell their stories. Marriage notices value the linear narrative of family accomplishment ("a son of," "the bride's father is ...") and of educational achievement ("he summa cum laude, she magna"), all with a subtext of Societal Value. Obituaries tell the complementary story, but with the same subtext: They focus on the professional, leaving the rest -- the personal stuff, the family stuff, the meat-sauce-y stuff -- merely implied.
And they do that for a very important reason, which is that obituaries function not just as good reading, but as structured morality tales, their interfaces subtly guiding human behavior. This is how to be. This is what we prize. The obituary is a life made normative. And so we read about Yvonne Brill, after her death, not because she is interesting (which she is), or because she was loved (which she was), but because her life reflects -- in a broad and collectively calculated way -- what we have decided to value, publicly and explicitly, as human accomplishment. Obits denude, by design. They are not eulogies, or even elegies, but object lessons: They strip away almost all the facts of somebody's life so that the life may be refigured as a fable. They turn humans into allegories.