“I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.” - Benjamin Franklin
Well, not to get too far off track to start with here, but I’m startled by Franklin’s reference to waking up at 9am. But that he humorously defers to the obituary section of the paper to determine his day is the greater point here and introduces our topic for today. But….9am? Really?
Ok, ok, ok….I’m moving on!
In recent years while reading my morning paper (and certainly earlier than 9am for Pete’s sake!), I’ve noticed that I’m giving more attention to reading the obituaries than any time in the past.
I’ve noticed my evolution from inadvertently glancing at the section on my way to more important stuff to now being consciously aware that I am studying the faces of those displayed on the page. I’m to the point now where I can say that I have read numerous obits in an attempt to understand something about that person who is no longer among the living.
In general, it appears that obit writing convention does not want you to learn very much. Yes, it must be intentional, because 90 percent of the obits are structured the same way and leave out the most valuable piece of information – how the person died!
I mean, good grief, they’re dead and you don’t even tell me how they died? That seems kind of important.
The younger the person is the more pressing is this question. I mean, don’t you want to know why a 29 year old is dead? Even a 45 year old?
I realize that I may be making a bit much about not much, but a newspaper is a NEWSpaper and as such should tell me the news in rather complete measure. Otherwise, why is the item in there?
Now for those who will say in some pious tone, ‘Well, it is about how they lived, not about how they died.’ I say poppy cock! If you want to tell me how they lived, then tell me. So, when it says that he was survived by his two sons, Bert and Ernie, I want to know whether he was on speaking terms with them, for example.
If he was a member of Podunk Baptist Church, I want to know whether he has warmed a pew in the place in the past five years, or whether that is all he did! It might say a lot about whether old George indeed went to his final resting place or entered into his rest, or whether he in fact has a downright difficult patch ahead of him now that he’s gone over yonder.
I mean that is informative stuff and might give the living pause to reflect on that inevitable moment when they too will pass through that curtain. It seems to me that there is no better time to tell the truth than when death has visited. I don’t believe we’re going to hurt his feelings or embarrass him.
I also realize that some news might make us hesitant about being too transparent due to the pain involved for the living, particularly for family members. In my community, a professional whose services I’d used previously was in the obit section. I was stunned. He was in his early 30s. I learned from other sources that tragically he’d taken his own life. I didn’t learn that from the obituary. Why didn’t I?
Each life is a message waiting to be told; perhaps even a lesson from which to be instructed. Why miss the opportunity?
I wonder how many family members are embarrassed or hurt when one of their own family members is thrown in jail for drugs, DWI, or even murder, but we print all the gory details through months of legal proceedings, incarceration, and what not. We don’t seem to care about the family then.
I realize that I’ve spent considerable space griping about how obituaries are written, partially tongue-in-cheek but partially not.
I realize that my growing interest in obituaries is in part about my increasing awareness of my own mortality. That those faces in the paper may very well be mine, and that could be any day now. That day is practically, and more importantly, psychologically, closer for me than in months and years past.
The question then is this: What do I want my obituary to say? Actually, the bigger issue is more about what kind of life have I lived and am currently living, and will it tell a story I will want to leave with the living.
“When I die, if the word 'thong' appears in the first or second sentence of my obituary, I've screwed up.” - Albert Brooks
Well, Albert, maybe you did screw up. It wouldn’t be the first time that has happened, I’m sure. But I’ll have gotten some real insight into your life if thong DOES appear in your obituary. And isn’t that more meaningful?
I sure hope mine says something worth reading. Perhaps I should start drafting one today. If I let someone else do it, I’m guessing they might not have gotten what I’ve been trying to say and screw the whole message thing up.
About the Author: Master Hobbit