I have been reading obituaries since I was a young girl. I have been reading obituaries long before most people even think of reading them with any regularity. I remember when I first got my real estate license back in the dark ages and the broker handed me the newspaper and told me to read the obituaries to see if there were any recent widows who might be interested in selling the family home. Eeew. How macabre, I thought. Something about that kind of tactic even struck me as being unethical. The broker did, however, tell me to wait a few weeks after the funeral before calling the widow. I never did.
I am not obsessed with death and dying although at my age that reality is getting closer and closer. But, reading the obituaries is like reading a story-book of biographies for me. I read about all of those interesting people and all that they have accomplished or enjoyed in life. Of course, people only put the good stuff in obits, never any of the bad stuff, which helps.
I’ve never read an obit that went something like this: “Jayne was a wonderful homemaker, beloved by all in spite of the fact that she was a hurtful gossip, cheated on her husband, and regularly belittled her children and used foul language behind closed doors.” Or, this: “Jonathan was an upstanding citizen who served his church as leading elder, sang in the choir, and was Rotarian of the year. Jonathan was also known to beat his wife and children unmercifully, and could be found dead drunk most Saturday nights as he staggered home from O’Brien’s Saloon.”
Sadly, every family has dark shadows, but they also know that they can’t hang the family’s dirty laundry out in the obituary. This carries over to the pastor’s homily, the family eulogies, and the memories we hold in our hearts for our deceased loved ones. And, so I love to read the good parts of life’s stories. The parts about how they are loved. The parts about the variety of activities people choose to live. The parts about all the family they have and doted on when they were vibrant and alive. The parts about the good they did for others, the awards they won, and the challenges they met and conquered. And oh, how I wish I had met and been friends with all of these fabulous folks. And so, I read the obits. Almost daily.
I’ve often thought about writing my own obituary. My children have even told me that I should because they are sure to forget something. But, you know, I’m not going there. Obituaries are written by the living, the survivors. Obituaries are the way they want to remember us and the parts of us that they remember the most and best. Obituaries are not really about the dead, but about all the collective memories the living have of the one who is no more.
I don’t have a clue what my children will write about me. I guess we all hope it will be good stuff. And you know, it will. It will be good stuff because the bad stuff isn’t worth writing about or remembering. It hurts. It will be good stuff because, in the final analysis, those left behind want the rest of the world to believe that the life of their dear departed was beautiful and grand and positive. They want to believe it too. In death the darkness of our life is left in the closet and only the light and good is put out there for the public in our obituaries. I like that, and so I read the obituaries because it is all good stuff.